Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tinker Tailor

by Richard Denning

"Tinker Tailor" is a traditional children’s counting game, nursery rhyme and fortune telling song which originated in the British Isles. An example might be counting cherry stones, buttons, daisy petals and other items to tell you what job you might get.  It was also once a popular way young ladies were supposed to be able to tell what their husband will be like, what type of clothes they would wear etc.

Many versions of the rhyme have existed.

In the UK the most common modern form is:

Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.

Whilst I believe a common American version is:

Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief,
Doctor, Lawyer,
Indian Chief.

The first mention of a similar rhyme has been noted in William Caxton's, The Game and Playe of the Chesse (c. 1475), in which pawns are named: "Labourer, Smith, Clerk, Merchant, Physician, Taverner, Guard and Ribald."

The first record of the opening four professions being grouped together is in William Congreve's Love for Love (1695), which has the line: “A Soldier and a Sailor, a Tinker and a Taylor, Had once a doubtful strife, sir.”

It was during the 19th century that we see the modern lyrics – or something close – emerging in the USA.

A. A. Milne's  Now we are Six incorporated a much longer version of the rymme by way of a counting game

The rhymme has of course become associated with the John Le Carre Novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but has appeared in other works of fiction such as the Ellery Queen Novel Double Double, a Tom Clancy book and even the title of a Marvel Comic.

Richard Denning 


Richard Denning is a historical fiction author whose main period of interest is the Early Anglo-Saxon Era. On this particular occasion however Richard is departing from mentioning his books here to drop in a mention of a card game he has produced called, oddly enough "Tinker Tailor". In one of his other lives Richard is an occasional game designer. Find out more about Tinker Tailor and his other games on his website:

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