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