Definition of nursery rhyme noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


nursery rhyme

BrE BrE//ˈnɜːsəri raɪm//
; NAmE NAmE//ˈnɜːrsəri raɪm//
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a simple traditional poem or song for children Culturenursery rhymesNursery rhymes are short verses and songs for children. Some are more than 200 years old. An early collection of rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, was published in England in about 1780 and in America five years later. Mother Goose is herself a traditional figure and teller of tales who was later included in pantomime. Her name is still associated with books of nursery rhymes, especially in America.Parents sing nursery rhymes to their children while they are still babies, and children soon learn the words themselves. The rhymes are popular because they are short, easy to say, and tell simple, often funny stories. For instance, The Queen of Hearts is about a queen who makes some tarts (= pastries with jam inside) for the king, but somebody steals them and the king punishes the thief.Some nursery rhymes may refer to people or events in history. The Grand Old Duke of York, for instance, is supposed to be about the Duke of Cumberland, a famous army commander, while Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary may describe Mary Queen of Scots. Ring a Ring o' Roses may refer to the Great Plague: the roses are red spots on the skin and the last line, ‘We all fall down’, refers to people dying. Other rhymes are about country life and farm animals, such as sheep or mice. They include Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, Little Miss Muffet, Sing a Song of Sixpence and Three Blind Mice.Rhymes such as Hush-a-bye, Baby are popular lullabies, songs that are sung to send children to sleep. Others are old riddles: Humpty Dumpty, for example, is an oval-shaped figure who breaks after falling off a wall and cannot be mended – the explanation is that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. Some rhymes have simple actions that go with them. Parents say the rhyme This little pig went to market while pulling their children's toes. Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake, Baker's Man, Oranges and Lemons and Ring-a-Ring o' Roses are all associated with simple games. Children use Eeny Meeny Miney Mo to choose somebody for a role in a game or to count the seconds to the start of a game.Most nursery rhymes told in the US come from Britain, though Mary Had a Little Lamb was written by an American, Sara Hale. Since rhymes are usually spoken or sung there are often small differences in the words. For example, Americans say Ring Around the Rosie and Pattie Cake, Pattie Cake, Baker's Man. Nursery rhymes often describe things that are unknown to most American children such as St Ives or Banbury Cross. Some rhymes use old or unusual language. For instance, Little Miss Muffet eats ‘curds and whey’, and few people know that this is a kind of cheese. But none of these things really matter and nursery rhymes continue to be popular with young children everywhere.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: nursery rhyme