Who said Humpty Dumpty was an egg?

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I’ll say this up front: Today’s post doesn’t have a point.

Cover of a 1904 adaptation of Humpty Dumpty by...

Image via Wikipedia

When you were little, and you’d see Humpty Dumpty in a book of nursery rhymes, he was always an egg, right?

But, who says he’s an egg?

Here’s the version of the nursery rhyme we all know:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the kings horses and all the kings men

Couldn’t put humpty together again.

It doesn’t say anything about him being an egg. We assume he’s an egg, but that’s just because we’ve always heard he’s an egg. I mean, everybody knows Humpty Dumpty was an egg, right?

Scholars (OK, I mean Wikipedia) trace the nursery rhyme to a book called Mother Goose’s Melody, published in 1803, and suggest it was originally meant a riddle, but that really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

RUBE: OK, I give up. Why couldn’t they put him together again?

RIDDLER: Because he was an egg!

RUBE: An egg?

RIDDLER: Yep! Get it?

RUBE: No. Who names an egg?

RIDDLER: What?

RUBE: Who names an egg? And it doesn’t make sense! Who puts an egg on a wall, and why would the king’s men try to put it back together? Was it, like, a golden egg?

RIDDLER: Um, maybe.

RUBE: Then why did it break? And what were the king’s horses supposed to do? It’s not like horses have opposable thumbs.  Have you ever seen a horse try to pick up an egg? It can’t be done.  Besides, there should be some clues within the riddle itself so you could figure it out, like in the Riddle of the Sphinx. You know, “What walks with four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?”

RIDDLER: Um, a man?

RUBE: Right. And how do you know it was a man?

RIDDLER: Because …

RUBE: I’ll tell you why. Because it’s metaphoric. There’s nothing metaphoric in Humpty Dumpty. It could just as easily have been a watermelon. The egg thing is completely random.

This actually came up years ago when I was in journalism class. The professor’s point was, don’t assume. Stick with the facts, even if it makes the story a lot less interesting.

I always thought it was a pretty good lesson.

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19 thoughts on “Who said Humpty Dumpty was an egg?

  1. Woah. I hadn’t ever thought about this before. My childhood was a lie! :)

    But, seriously, that is a very good lesson. I try to utilize it every evening while watching the news.

  2. It’s not like horses have opposable thumbs. Have you ever seen a horse try to pick up an egg?

    Awesome awesome point.

    But I don’t get the riddle about the four legs then two legs then three legs. I’m going to have to check with my resident smarty, Hot Joe the Husband, and if he gets the right answer and can explain it then life will be good. Otherwise, I’m commenting again tomorrow and I WANT ANSWERS.

    • Here’s the supposed logic behind the Riddle of the Sphinx: First you crawl on all fours, then you walk, then you walk with a cane. What I’d really like to know is how anyone could guess Humpty Dumpty was an egg based on the supposed riddle.

      P.S. I really don’t like riddles, just because they can be so arbitrary.

  3. If I remember correctly, this poem appeared first in Through the Looking Glass and it was illustrated by a picture of an egg. That’s why we know he’s an egg.

      • OK, so I don’t generally trust Wikipedia for a true and honest history, so I looked this up and found this, which makes a lot of sense: http://www.rhymes.org.uk/humpty_dumpty.htm. (For anyone who doesn’t want to look, it says Humpty Dumpty was actually a cannon that was so powerful, it destroyed the wall it sat upon during a battle and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” tried to lift it up again, but couldn’t because it was too heavy.)

        The egg image, however, did originate with Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was Through the Looking Glass, but I think I was wrong about that. I sometimes can’t remember what was in which book. :-)

        I love trying to figure out nursery rhyme origins! It’s fascinating. There’s a whole book about it I read once back in high school. Mother Goose was part of the title, but that’s all I remember.

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