Friday, August 15, 2008

Nanny nanny boo boo

Some time ago when I both had and worked with young children I noticed an interesting thing. Kids of particular ages have their own expressions that are not used by either adults or children of other ages. My favorite example is from kids under about six years old who chant "Nanny nanny boo boo." This is a shortening of the full expression "Nanny nanny boo boo. Stick your head in doo doo." This taunt is typically used in chasing games and means "You can't catch me you ...". I have heard this chant in multiple locations thousands of miles apart, and I have heard it over a period of years. As far as I can tell it is: persistent, widespread, and completely restricted to young children. I don't think I have ever heard an adult use the full expression.

Other age groups seem to have similar cultural artifacts. Junior high kids who would never dream of being so immature as to say "Nanny nanny boo boo" may tell you the joke about the pygmy tribe called the fakawi. In tall grasslands, people of this tribe can be found jumping up and yelling "We're the fakawi". Say it with a Brooklyn accent - its an aural joke. I had an adult neighbor repeat this one to me the other day, but I believe it is largely confined to junior high aged kids.

This is anecdotal and I have no real conclusions about the phenomena, I just find it fascinating that culture can be transmitted horizontally through an age group without the mediation of adults or even family.


sf said...

Possibly from language to language as well.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fascinating how these taunts survive generation after generation. We said, "Nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in doo doo" as kids, and now I'm listening to my 8 year old say it to her brother. I wonder who first said it and when??