What little boys are made of...


So there we were playing Trivial Pursuit, Know-It-All Edition, I think and the following questions came up:

“According to the nursery rhyme, what are little boys made of?”

The question wasn’t mine, and whoever answered got it wrong. I said the answer was "Snips and snails and puppy dog tails. " The Trivial Pursuit answer was “Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.” Everybody else at the table looked at me funny saying “Snips and snails? What the hell are you talking about?”

Now, I also saw an episode of the Powerpuff Girls (yes, I like this cartoon and if you got a problem with that, y’all can sod off. :slight_smile: ) and in the episode with the Rowdy Rough Boys, there was a visual reference to “Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails.”

So, I did a web search. Alltheweb.com gives me about 240 hits for “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” and around 140 for “snakes.” So obviously both versions exist. Which is the original version, which are y’all familiar with, and what the fokker is a “snip” anyway?
(In the Powerpuff Girls, it was snips of armpit hairs.)

Thank you for your support.

Snakes!? Now I may not be a big city biologist like the rest of you, but I’ve only ever heard of snips.

My guess is that this whole snake nonsense is rooted in the misidentification of what must have clearly been a poorly lit collection of puppy dog tails. I mean, c’mon… first of all I think we can all agree that there is a certain amount of redundancy in the inclusion of both snakes and snails. Sure, you’d get all the essential mischief and girl hating compounds, but the formula doesn’t provide any foundation for the development of over-competiveness and unchecked cruelty. One need only look to the works of Piaget to appreciate how profoundly the absence of key snip-based enzymes would be borne out in patterns of the early play stages. Little league soccer and baseball teams would falter as after school debate and spelunking clubs would rise in their place, catering to the new race of disinterested prepubescent’s appetite for chaos and darkness. That and the whole forked tongues thing too.

Snakes indeed!

Well, just to add my opinion, I’ve always heard “snips ‘n’ snails and puppy dog tails” and never “snakes …”, etc. I for one do not wish to be composed of a snake (unless I could stick my tongue out and know what’s around me … that’d be kind of cool.)

Back to the origin, I think a ‘snip’ must be a snip of a chute. This means the difference arose across the Atlantic, which is why Americans play “Chutes & Ladders” and those in the UK play “Snakes & Ladders”. Which usage is current in Canada? I’d guess the snakes, which is why Trivial Pursuit has it that way, though I can’t speak for any or most of the English-speaking world.

My guess is that “snips” must be earlier. Why? Because phrases tend to mutate in a more specific direction. After a while, a lot of people starting asking, “What’s a snip anyway? That don’t make no sense.” Then when someone though it should be “snakes”, they went along with it since they knew what a snake was. It doesn’t seem likely that “snake” would change to “snip” for any reason at all (unless some ophidian-feminist group was arguing for it).

Hmmmm. I was a little boy once, and believe me, you don’t wanna know!

Isn’t it funny how low self-esteem can screw you up?

I grew up saying “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” but later, unable to make that make any kind of sense, assumed I must have mis-heard the original line “snips of snails and puppy dog tails.”

I never even considered the possiblity that I wasn’t wrong.

My grandmother always said “Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails…”

BUT. According to The Classic Volland Edition of Mother Goose printed in 1971:

Sorry, but…
It’s “frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails” which has the advantages of making sense and being easier to sing than those snips or snakes tongue twisters.

Snaps. Wonderful.

Scores 4 on the alltheweb.com search.

Now what the heck is a snap? How many freakin’ variants are there of this rhyme? Trivial Pursuit is gonna get a stern reprimanding for their bad research in alternate answers.

Ok. Here I am answering my own question.

One person on parentsplace.com claims their book had “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails.” No details of the book were mentioned.

Aha. Here’s a site with it:

Great, we also have “sticks and snails”

This web site has “snipes” ???

Some medical web site has it as “slugs and snails.” Almost redundant, no?

One person has it as “snits and snails”

OK, here’s a winner. “SHIPS and snails.”

God, it’s not stopping. Here we have “worms and snails.”

“nails and snails” http://www.netease.net/members/buck/Textfile/menandwomen.htm

“rats and snails”

Hot damn, I never would’ve thought there’d be so many variants on this. And to think, I just spent 30 minutes researching this stupid question. So here’s our score as exact search string matches in alltheweb.com

(as searched by “X and snails and puppy dog tails” and “X snails and puppy dog tails”)

snips - 262
snakes - 172
frogs - 58
slugs - 16
rats - 10
sticks - 8
snaps - 5
ships - 3
nails - 2
snits - 1
worms - 1
snipes - 0 (found on altavista)

PHEW. I hope this entertains you.

heh. pulykamell, this is as bad as The Wheels on the Bus. But I have to throw my support behind Mother Goose’s version.

Gotta love the teeming millions – so much effort put into such a silly question. This is why I love you guys – you’re the only type of people anywhere who get all obsessed about this junk like I do! Pulykamell – most fascinating research! I’ve always heard it “snips and snails,” and I’ve never heard any other version. I always figured it was “snips” as in “little pieces of odds and ends.” Like what a small boy would carry in his pockets. The “puppy dog tail” thing always bothered me more… Little boys are nasty!

Jess (who is made of sugar and spice and everything nice)


You all went to so much trouble, and you even tabulated the results and I still don’t know what the hell a SNIP actually is!

My best guess - a tadpole.

One definition I can find in my dictionary for “snip” is, “A small person who is mischievous or annoying.” Don’t know if that’s the definition intended in the poem, and the dictionary doesn’t give the origin of that definition.

Another definition for “snips”, “Small hand shears used in cutting sheet metal.” I suppose that could be it, too.

amarinth got it right. It probably was originally frogs and snails. This is the version collected by J.O. Halliwell in 1842 in England as listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. An American version of colleted nursery rhymes arount 1920 used Snaps. Stevenson around 1948, suggested that it was snips and tries to attibute it to an English writer c.1820, but has no proof(and the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes shoots him down).

wow, samclem. great info!

what i don’t get is why, etymologically speaking, would the progression go frogs --> snaps --> snips ?

I trust Oxford, but logically I would have thought the rhyme would have started out with something like “snip” or “snap” and finally someone saying “Just what the HELL are those things? Let’s change it to something more familiar, like a frog”?

So how did it get from “frog” to “snap”? Why? Perhaps there is no verifiable answer for this one, but I’d at least like to hear people’s theories. These sorts of things fascinate me.

I’ve just asked around my office (in UK) and everyone here has only heard of slugs and snails etc. Some of them have come up with several xenophobic comments on what Americans are made of. :slight_smile:

pulykamell wrote:

And this website has “snopes”:
http://www.snopes.com :wink:

I thought it was “snits and bolotomusses”.

I have it on good authority that a snip is what’s left of a foreskin after circumcision.

Hey! you asked.


it’s ‘all things nice’, not everything nice :wink:

If you’re referring to the Opie _ Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes_, it has been pretty thoroughly debunked over the years. I can’t find a reference on line which supports that though.

I remember it as “frogs and snails…”