Origin of the "nanny nanny nanny!" taunting melody?

Most of us are probably familiar with the childhood taunting melody used by unpleasant children everywhere for delivering such messages as “nanny nanny nanny!” or “Kevin’s i-in trou-ble!” or the like.

Two notes, then a third down, then a fourth up, then down to the original note (most strongly emphasized), then a third down again.

Has there been any research into the geographical/social extent of this melody’s use for taunting purposes and where it might have originally come from?

Isn’t it the first 2 bars of “Ring around the rosies, pocket full of posies”?

Nanny nanny boo boo, stick your face in doo doo.

Yes, I suppose it is. :smack: Oddly, though, when I look at the Wikipedia article about Ring Around the Rosie, the 1898 score they display has four variants, none of which are the Ring around the Rosie/taunting song I’m familiar with. So I suppose that variant must have emerged at some point.

Didn’t it start out as a series of “nyahs” rather than “nannys”?

In my family it was more like, “neener neener neener”

Baby, baby,
Stick your head in gravy
Wash it off with bubblegum and send it to the Navy!

Wikipedia has more details under Taunting.

Brit here, I was brought up with the version Nah Ni Nahny NAA Naa.

Mine was Nanny nanny boo boo.

And it’s really fun to play on trumpet with each trumpet playing it a half step off. Or better yet, a off by a tritone (which I just played on my keyboard.)

For me, “neener neener neener” and “nanny, nanny, boo boo” are distinctly different ‘chants’ (for lack of a better term) though similar sounding.

Definitely different, Opal. In retrospect, I’ve heard both in my childhood. I don’t think I’ve every heard it like Chefguy’s, though.

When I was a kid it was:

Nanny, nanny, nanny-goat!
Cannot catch a billy-goat!

I’ll venture to say that a billy-goat was seen as stronger/more powerful than a nanny-goat, so tha ‘Nanny, nanny, nanny!’ is calling someone a weakling.

My brilliant musical husband has pointed out that the minor third interval found in this chant is very common in children’s music / chant; it seems to resonate with the wee brains.

There are several songs that use it: ‘Ring Around the Rosie’, as mentioned; there’s a play-song call-and-response that includes the line “Wolf, are you there?” that some may be familiar with; ‘This Old Man’; I’m sure there are more.

We always said “Nayh, nayh, nayh, nayh, nayh”


Same interval. I think it’s significant that it’s descending as well.

Another vote for “Nya nya” with the /ah/ sounding like in “ant”. It weirds me out to hear people say it with an r. It’s irritating because they’re saying it wrong!

It’s like there’s a whole hidden world out there. Other than “neener neener” (and never with a third neener or any differentiation in the how the two are pronounced) I’ve never heard any of the things mentioned in this thread.

Do other people recognize the verse following “nanny nanny boo-boo” as being “stick your head in doo-doo”?

Opal Cat, that’s exactly what I was about to post.

Nanny-nanny boo-boo
Stick your face in doo-doo

I remember that Leonard Bernstein dealt with this question in one of his lectures on music. Unfortunately, it’s been a good 30 years since I saw that lecture, so my grasp of the detail of his explanation is somewhat spotty. But what I do recall seems to follow drpepper’s brilliant musical husband’s idea, that minor descending thirds is so basic in some way that it is appealing to small children.