Fee Fi Fo Fum - what does it really mean?

So did the Brothers Grimm come up with that one? Or is it a sanitation rhyme included for later kiddy consumption? Not that it’s too sanitised - grinding bones to make bread etc.

I once read a book where some so called ‘expert’ analyzed Nursery Rhymes and came to the conclusion - every time! - that they were about homosexual trysts.

I tended to ignore him after he claimed Jill in ‘Jack and Jill’ was really a boy’s name.

Well sure, everyone knows, for instance that
“Hansel and Gretel” was an allusion to a homosexual three-way.

“Hansel, stretch out your finger that I may feel if you will soon be fat.” Hansel, however, stretched out a little bone to her, and the old woman, who had dim eyes, could not see it, and thought it was Hansel’s finger, and was astonished that there was no way of fattening him."

The “witch” was really a “man” and his intent to “eat” poor Hansel was actually quite literal. Right?

The Brothers Grimm then offered another allegory by way of H&G pushing “her” into the oven, the meaning of which we needn’t go into. It all goes to show, “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.”

Fee fi fo fum? I have no idea.

None of my at-hand references shows an origin for Fee Fi Foe Fum. Sorry.

In terms of interpreting folk tales as having sexual implications, I suggest Bruno Bettleheim’s USES OF ENCHANTMENT. Ignorning Bettleheim as a person, his thoughts here are quite interesting. His main premise is that one of the reasons that folk tales (such as Brothers Grimm et al) have endured so long is that they strike a resonant chord in the child: that a parent can impart wisdom through a folk tale that the child can understand, but that the child would not accept (and the parent might not deliver) in plainer terms.

For example: the giant (or the wicked step-parent) is usually a simple symbolic representation of the parent. Parents are like giants to the small child; and parents sometimes do things that are terrifying to the child (punish the child, for instance.) The hero/heroine of the folk tale overcoming the giant is a way of conveying to the child that he/she can grow up to overcome these terrors. It also is a way of saying that daddy or mommy sometimes does act like two different creatures – a loving, supportive, nurturing parent and an angry, punishing, terrifying giant.

The message would not be understood by a child if delivered directly; but put in symbolic story terms, Bettleheim argues that the message can be delivered and understood at a subconscious level.

The argument is not just that the folk tales have a deep-rooted sexual element, but that they have deep-rooted psychological elements, some of which are sexual. And that’s why children love the stories, and why they have endured.

Yeah, I agree there. Along with the Hero With A Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell thing: Myth, legend, and folklore; it’s all allegory.

However, the aspect that I’m curious about, and maybe it’s hard to seriously track down, is the actual elements themselves and how they were decided upon. I’d be fascinated by the annotations in the Grimms’ notebook - why they removed some elements, and included their own versions. Where they got each tale from, in how many varieties, and which were distilled.

And what their own motivations were - was it to compile these allegorical tales for the good of the children (or whoever their intended audience was) or was it purely for the money; did they see a franchising opportunity or something.

Anyhoo, my point was - did they themselves come up with “Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman…” or was it a traditional nonsense phrase. And I’m sure there were many fascinating things like that worth reading up on.

Not to mention Mother Goose, Hans Christian Andersen (though he was a bit of a miserable writer, a bit short on happy endings - no Danny Kaye was he!) and the rest.

didn’t the Brothers Grimm originially write the tales in German? if so, the “Fee Fi Fo Fum… Englishman” would be the work of the English translator?

“Fee fi fo fum” has a resonance similar to “eenie meenie miney moe” and “hickory dickory dock”, which I am given to understand were “one two three four” and “ten eleven twelve”, respectively. They may be letters or numbers in consecutive order, from one of our ancestral languages.

Designated Optional Signature at Bottom of Post

Actually, the giant was complaining about his accountants, the English firm of Fum and Fum. They insisted on using FIFO for costing his inventory of golden eggs, and he thought that their fee was too high.

Gilligan, I think that was Foo and Foo. Using Fum and Fum causes the golden eggs to disappear!

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

“Jack and the Beanstalk” is not from the Brothers Grimm, it is of British origin; see Katherine M. Briggs Dictionary of British Folk Tales (1970). Bettleheim in The Uses of Enchantment comments that important elements from the story appear in many stories all over the world: the seemingly stupid exchange which provides something of magic power, the miraculous seed from which a tree grows that reaches into heaven; the cannibalistic giant/ogre who is outwitted and robbed; the hen (or goose) that lays golden eggs; the musical instrument that talks. “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a meaningful fairy tale because of the insertion all these elements into “a story that asserts the desirability of social and sexual self-assertion on the part of the pubertal child, and the foolishness of the mother who belittles this.”

Still looking for the fee fi fo fum, though… Probably takes a trip to the library or a web search.

Main Entry: 1fee
Pronunciation: 'fE
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French fé, fief, from Old French, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English feoh cattle, property, Old High German fihu cattle; akin to Latin pecus cattle, pecunia money
Date: 14th century
1 a (1) : an estate in land held in feudal law from a lord on condition of homage and service (2) : a piece of land so held b : an inherited or heritable estate in land

Main Entry: fie
Pronunciation: 'fI
Function: interjection
Etymology: Middle English fi, from Old French
Date: 14th century
– used to express disgust or disapproval

Main Entry: foe
Pronunciation: 'fO
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English fo, from Old English fAh, from fAh, adjective, hostile; akin to Old High German gifEh hostile
Date: before 12th century
1 : one who has personal enmity for another
2 a : an enemy in war b : ADVERSARY, OPPONENT
3 : one who opposes on principle <a foe of needless expenditures>
4 : something prejudicial or injurious

ain Entry: faun
Pronunciation: 'fon, 'fän
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin faunus, from Faunus
Date: 14th century
: a figure in Roman mythology similar to but gentler than the satyr

So, whaddya think? :slight_smile:

Work like you don’t need the money…
Love like you’ve never been hurt…
Dance like nobody’s watching! …(Paraphrased)

I dunno, george, Fee Fi Fo Fum has a lot better ring to it than “Money Ugh Enemy Satyr”.

I don’t have anything to add, except to be grateful to be associated with any poster who has a working knowledge of Tom Leher.

“When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.”


This quote. . .from our moderator/censor! Sounds like we got problems!


So kiddies, at the age when they relate to these stories, relate to the “deep-rooted. . .sexual” “elements” “they have” in them? This sort of psych-illogic and litter-airiness reminds of religious doctrine more than anything else. Liberal-artists seem to be able to live off this perpetual ridiculousness generation after generation. To me its about as believable as Romulus and Remus and Greek Mythology. (One is not “well read” if one has not read all this kind of stuff, right?) This goes for both of your posts here.

Pubertal children concern themselves with “Jack and the Beanstalk”? Gimme a break!

“Fee fi fo fum” is just a group of nice, simple, strong-sounding syllables that very young children can relate to as coming from a big, dangerous being, that may at the same time be thought of as kind of funny, which aspect is enhanced by the alliteration.

FEE FI FO FOOEY on all this psycho-literary pomposity dumped on kids who are still pretty simple in thought at any age during which relate to green giants. . .if any of them do these days at any age. These psycho-literary types must get nursery rhymes shoved into them like religion from fanatics. :wink:

Is one supposed to remember, as an adult, what their thoughts were as to various nursery rhymes? I got the usual array and related to them in some sort of way, I assume, but at present, I don’t have one freakin’ inkling as to what they ever meant to me. Some years after nursery rhymes came comic books full of superheroes. I don’t even understand at present what I ever got out of reading those. . .except I do remember reading, in one comic book, in about 1940, of U235’s relating to bombs. Later, it didn’t seem to me, that back then, there could’ve generally been much public mention elsewhere of such goings-on at that early date.

Ray (Where did that cum fum?)

I would have to pretty much agree with NanoByte on that point - it is mostly a load of Mumbo-Jumbo in expecting fairy tales to actually have any impact outside of entertainment on a young person’s mind, at least in respect in calling up that feeling you got from them later in life.

I guess the intention of them may have been to affect the intellectual growth of a child, and indeed some people do claim to relate to tales on those levels, but I personally never have. They’re just stories to me.

I’m a Star Wars fan, and it’s always dumbfounded me how people have said they like those movies because of how they can relate to Luke and his wistful dreams of leaving his home and then his daring adventures and trials he had to overcome to reach his goals, bla bla crap.

I say Bollocks. It’s a cool series of movies with aliens and spaceships. The end.

As I think I said when I quoted above, I was citing Bettleheim’s theory. The question he poses is: why do some stories endure, well loved by children AND adults, while countless other stories drop aside and are forgotten?

His answer is that the stories that have endured – especially the ones that circulated orally, probably for centuries, before being written down – do so because they appeal to basic, primal needs. That’s not such a far fetched idea.

Bettleheim said that the story of Jack and the Beanstalk is about a kid hitting puberty – giving up the stage of dependence (cow, mother) for a more assertive stage of life (beanstalk, overcoming giant.) He did not say that was the audience, Nano, that was the character.

STAR WARS is an interesting analogy, because STAR WARS is “cool” precisely because it draws on great mythic elements. If you like STAR WARS only because the special effects are leading-edge technology, then it will be out of date in a few years. If you like STAR WARS because the story appeals to you, then consider the elements of the story that have such appeal.

To a psychologist or sociologist (and to a few other types, like Hollywood producers and readers of this board) merely classifying something as “cool” is inadequate. The question is: why is this story viewed as “cool” and that story viewed as “uncool”? What psychological and sociological phenomenon cause that outcome?

Well, Robert Johnson, follower of Carl Jung and sterling guitarist–wait… there’s more than one guy named Robert Johnson??–based a popular and pretty convincing series of little books that reconcile modern psychology with pervasive, lasting myths. Johnson wastes a lot of the reader’s time tying Trystan und Isolte into our “collective unconsciousness,” but at the root of his argument is a pretty convincing point.

As I remember it, the brothers Grimm collected their stories from Eastern Europe, writing down stories that had existed in an oral tradition from time immemorial. It was a long time before anyone got the bright idea to check these stories against the myths of the Chinese, and then guess what? It turns out that Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, etc. are all being told to little Chinese kids, too. These stories are so persistent, hit people at such a basic level, that they continued to exist in a similar (not unchanged) form for a thousand years and several language changes since they were first written down.

It is difficult to imagine that such stories continue to exist simply because they entertain children so well. If that’s the case, people a thousand years from now might be reciting the Barf-O-Rama stories. I tend to think that these fairy tales do affect us at some basic level that we don’t really have words to describe other than in the form of a simple children’s story.

I am a big Fantasy novel fan, and I do relate to Star Wars on the story level, but also on the ‘whizz-bang gosh’ and ‘fun character’ levels. (Not the ‘parallels my life and I take inspiration from it’ level)

But not to the point where it moves me, only in so far as it captivates my imagination. So I’m not sure if Fairy Tales affect everyone in the same ways - which may be one of the keys of its endurance, I suppose.

Certainly I’m disappointed they’ve been relegated to Children’s Stories almost exclusively. I think those tales of derring-do and character growth deserve better.

One day, I want to see these stories made realistically, (though it is a kind of trend in Hollywood to do that - witness the Sigourney Weaver Snow White for instance) on TV or movies.

CK in re Bettleheim:

So the claim is that these stories for toddlers persist because they appeal to the "basic, primal needs’. . .of the adult storytellers, is that it? Well, as an adult, I guess I missed the train, but all trains of that nature, including works of mythology, the Bible, the Koran, Catcher in the Rye, and all such crocks seemed to me to be on their own circular tracks going nowhere – except in religious, literary or psycho-brainwashers’ circles.

At the age level of the listeners of fairy tales, kids are intrigued by animals, varieties of sounds and their relationships, things that are funny in simple terms, scary things and comforting things, good beings and bad beings, yucky things and tasteful things, etc. While sex is in their genes at that time, not much is normally in their minds until the correlate hormones start flowing, normally long after their days of listneing to fairy tales. Or are you saying that, if they don’t listen to the fairy tales, these hormones won’t flow properly?

I listed some of the “primal needs” toddlers are in the market for. “Ontogeny follows philogeny,” prior to adolescence, I’d say. These kids also like to shy away from books and chase things and climb other things. In my prior post, I cited aspects of such things as ‘Fee fi fo fum’ that fall into my above-listed categories. Persistence of any fairy story may be partly a result of its appeal to particular adult readers of it to children, but I can’t really relate to that. I can’t even get into the silly fairy stories written today for adults. However, I contend that most of the evolutionary competition of fairy tales depends on the demand side of the transaction. I say Bettleheim’s stuff is far-fetched, as you present it, at least. But his kind of babbling sells to a considerable number of aficionados who suck on it. . .because those aficionados apparently never got enough fairy stories read to them as toddlers, so they have to have adult fairy stories read to them as adults. :wink:

Was I supposed to pick up on that as a toddler, the only time the story was read to me? Gee, guess I was retarded; I didn’t then know anything about puberty. Of course, I was in San Jose then, not Berkeley. (I have met nine-year-olds in Berkeley who could write stuff like Bettleheim’s.) Jack&B has to do with not depending on a cow? You mean one’s milk? Seems to me that many post-puberty folks depend on cows. . .even cowboys (along with Marlboros, of course). Actually, I did OK on human milk, but then at an only slightly advanced age, it was found that I was allergic to cow’s milk, so they put me on goat’s milk. Maybe that’s my problem. What fairy stories would you recommend for goat’s-milk drinkers?

The special effects of the original Star Wars were interesting but I wasn’t really turned on by them; however, I first saw it as an adult. Did it have a story? I guess there was some corny moralizing in it. I haven’t seen the prequel. Close Encounters I could relate to a little better, but it was still silly fantasy. I was never a Trekkie either. Science is interesting; sci-fi is sci-lly.

Gimme a break! Hollywood only wants money. And as to the rest of those guys, “psychological and sociological phenomen[a]” are only figments of the minds of psychologists and sociologists, and their readers are people who have trouble relating to the real world, and so hole up in myths. (As I said, probably didn’t get enough fairy tales in early childhood. At least that’s my psychoanalytical take. :wink: ) Psych and sosh are purely subjective – more religion than science.

Sofa King:

That’s a perennial pastime of psychos and writers. After all, “modern psychology” dug into Greek mythology to construct much of its nonsense. Find a shrink who wasn’t steeped in Greek and Roman mythology during his schooling. My parents, with clear reason, couldn’t understand why that stuff was dumped on me in seventh grade, but the public schools weren’t exactly avant-garde in the '40s in Salinas, so they never pointed out to me how that wonderful stuff should make me want to kill my father and marry my mother, and all that good stuff; so my adolescence was radically disturbed by the abscence of that inclination. Jeez, maybe if that connection had been properly made, I wouldn’t be bugging you about this now. Then again, maybe they let lifers get on the Net and post to forums these days. . .so they can find out that it was really the ancient Greeks who are responsible for their crimes. . .and they will be forgiven in secular-humanist heaven.

Well, it’s as I always figured, Red was a Maoist. But were there pumpkins in China then? And The Three Bears? Pandas, no doubt. And Jack? Bean there, Deng that.

Of course, they originated from the thinking of adults, but “it is difficult to imagine that” they persisted because of elements in them that appealed only to adults, rather than because they had elements in them that would normally appeal only to small children.

Never heard of those, but I don’t see why not. Barf is yucky. And I understand that Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu, the chief Hindu god. So psycho-socio-litero-types can ramble on about how these stories derived from Hindu mythology, and thus the offspring of liberal artists should become properly inundated with whatever these stories are for, for at least 1000 years.

All right, I confess. I have always been bothered as to why Jill played second fiddle. She should’ve, by all politically correct rights, “come tumbling before.” Come to think of it, I’ve never heard that nursery rhyme in feminist Berkeley. But hey, as you say, if people can’t find “words to describe” the effects such stories had on them at preschool age, you really ought

Did anybody else, as a child, think this poem had something to do with English muffins?

Nanobyte, are you deliberately being obtuse?

No one is saying that children or adults consciously understand all the psychological layers of these fairy tales. The point is that these and other tales survive because they are good, and they are good because they touch us in some deep way.

No, little Johnny is not going to listen to “Jack and the Beanstalk” and then think, “By jiminy, suddenly my vague fears about adolescence and parental relatonships have been cast in a whole new light. Thank goodness that delightful tale contained such valuable insight into a child’s psyche.”

But Johnny might start thinking how fun it would be to leave home and go on an adventure
and outwit someone much bigger than himself.

I read the “Lord of the Rings” as a teen-ager, engrossed by the action and the magic and the poetry. But I daresay all that was given a little extra poignance because the story was also about a small, innocent person given a great responsibility and struggling to do the right thing.

And don’t tell me “Huckleberry Finn” doesn’t have some significance beyond the simple comedy of an ignorant boy and his redneck acquaintances.

Up, up and away!