[Ads-l] Pronunciation

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Wed Mar 1 13:42:03 EST 2017

I was curious about the origin of the "little girl/curl" poem, so I tried a Google Books search, specifying Nineteenth Century.

The earliest hit was The Ohio Farmer  for Saturday, Nov. 4, 1871.


A three-stanza version was printed without attribution:

   There was a little girl
   Who had a little curl
   Right in the middle of her forehead
   When she was good 
   She was very very good
   But when she bad she was horrid

   She went up stairs
   And her parents, unawares
   Was a looking out of the window
   She stood on her head
   In her little trundle-beg
   And nobody nigh to hinder

   Her mother heard the noise
   And she thought it was the boys
   A playing in the empty attic
   But she ran up-stairs
   And caught her unawares
   And spanked her most emphatic

Recently ADS-L had a thread about "nouning adjectives".  "emphatic" is an 1871 example.

Another hit had a different second stanza:

St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine For Young Folks
vol VIII  May to October 1881


  There was a little boy
  And he had a fur cap
  Which came to the middle of his forehead
  And when he was cold
  He was very, very cold
  But when he was warm he was torrid.

The Current, Volume IX, Number [illegible] for Saturday, December 3, 1887, page 389


has a detailed attribution to Longfellow:

a lady told him she disliked the silly little poems written to children, such as 
    <snip> But when she was bad, she was horrid.
Mr. Longfellow laughed, and turning to his daughter who had just entered the room, said: "Do you remember who wrote that, Annie?"  "Oh, yes!" she answered, "you said that to baby one morning, when she refused to have her hair brushed."

A later copy of St. Nicholas, volume X, September 1883, page 876, a letters to the editor section, also has a detailed attribution:


In behalf of my little ones, Jessie and Harold, aged 8 and 4, who take great delight in your monthly visits, I answer your query as to the author of the jingle
      "There was a little girl,
       And she had a little curl" etc.
by telling you that I have a letter from Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Mr. Longfellow's publishers, saying that Mr. Longfellow did compose the one stanza beginning as above, but never published it.  The subsequent additions, or pardoeis, however ("There was a little boy", etc.) were made by other persons.   Yours truly,
                         A. H. Nelson

- Jim Landau

Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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