Heavy Words Lightly Thrown by Chris Roberts
The Reason Behind the Rhyme

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Was Little Jack Horner a squatter? "Baa Baa Black Sheep" a bleat about taxation? What did Jack and Jill really do on that hill? Chris Roberts reveals the seamy and quirky stories behind our favorite nursery rhymes.

Nursery rhymes are rarely as innocent as they seem—there is a wealth of concealed meaning in our familiar childhood verse. More than a century after Queen Victoria decided that children were better off without the full story, London librarian Chris Roberts brings the truth to light. He traces the origins of the subtle phrases and antiquated references, revealing religious hatred, political subversion, and sexual innuendo.

Roberts reveals that when Jack, nimble and quick, jumped over a candlestick, he was reenacting a popular sport that tested whether a person was lean and healthy. Humpty Dumpty was actually a cannon mounted on the walls of a church in Colchester, blown up during the English Civil War. Few know that the cockles in "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" actually refer to cuckolds in the promiscuous court of Mary Queen of Scots. Or that "Rub-a-dub-dub, three maids in a tub" was inspired by a fairground peepshow.

A fascinating history lesson that makes astonishing connections to contemporary popular culture, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown is for Anglophiles, parents, history buffs, and anyone who has ever wondered about the origins of rhymes. The book features a glossary of slang and historical terms, and spooky silhouettes of nursery-rhyme characters to accompany the rhymes. Mother Goose will never look the same again.


About Chris Roberts

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Chris Roberts is a librarian in South London and the proprietor of F and M Walking Tours in London. He incorporates these stories into his tours, which became the inspiration for the book. Heavy Words Lightly Thrown began as a self- published project in the UK and has already begun to receive widespread publicity, including coverage in USA Today. Roberts lived in New York City for several years after earning a degree in history at Swansea University. He lived in Berlin for a while before settling in London.
Published August 17, 2006 by Gotham. 202 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Humor & Entertainment, Young Adult, Literature & Fiction, Religion & Spirituality, Children's Books, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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Thus, he reports that “Georgy Porgy” was more plausibly a satire on a gay prince regent of the 19th century than on a marquis in the 17th, and that the earliest written version of the rhyme had no George at all, but warned about the dangers of being too fat, beginning with the line “Rowley Powley...

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Publishers Weekly

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A librarian by night and a London tour guide by day, Roberts deploys an informal style of scholarship to dazzling effect, transforming a catalogue of familiar nursery rhymes into a treasure trove of tantalizingly slippery archaisms, hidden etymological layers, arcane associations and buried meani...

May 09 2005 | Read Full Review of Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: T...

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