Please be sure to stop by the "Ring around the Rosie" Variations Page. It's the companion piece to this mini-FAQ, and it contains a lot of information that couldn't comfortably fit here. There are a number of specific links to it below.
Much of the following is shamelessly plagiarized from an excellent article by Philip Hiscock. All suggestions for correcting or improving this mini-FAQ are very welcome.
Hmmm...is it possible you posted without reading the whole thread? Did you perhaps write something like "definately about the plague" without providing any evidence? Have you read the references everyone keeps mentioning?
The afuisti are pretty tired of this topic of discussion. It has an unfortunate tendency to repeat itself over and over again, especially when crossposting's involved.
If you have new information to share you'll get a warm welcome. If all you have to offer is the same old hack interpretation, however, we don't want to hear about it. Hence this mini-FAQ.
People think "Ring around the Rosie" is about the bubonic plague because they were told so, probably in school. They support this belief by interpreting the poem as follows (generally speaking):
Two things. First, the rhyme's not old enough. Second, the early versions are clearly not about the plague.
The earliest printed source for the rhyme dates from 1881. A folklore book published in 1883 claims that versions of the rhyme were circulating in Massachusetts in 1790, but no printed evidence is available.
This earlier date is 125 years after the last major plague of the English-speaking world, and roughly 450 years after the Black Death, the 14th century plague most commonly associated with the poem.
Furthermore, as the variations page demonstrates, most early versions of the rhyme would be extremely difficult to interpret as references to the plague. Folklorists have come up with far more plausible explanations for the origins of the rhyme: see the answer to Question 8, below.
In this case it probably does. Folklorists and antiquarians have been collecting popular rhymes, games and pastimes for at least 300 years. It's hard to believe that "Ring around the Rosie" somehow escaped their attention.
You're welcome to your delusions, but please air them elsewhere. Given the evidence at hand, in order to believe in the plague interpretation you must follow one of two lines of logic:
a) Created in 1665 (or, better still, in 1340), the rhyme quickly went underground: for over 100 years (or 450 years) no one would dare mention it in public. Then, suddenly, it wasn't a secret anymore.
b) In the late 18th century a group of Americans thought it would be neat to invent a rhyming game that was filled with references to disgusting aspects of an ancient epidemic in a foreign country.
If you want to travel down one of these roads, be my guest.
This is a popular fallback argument, but it doesn't make much sense. In the first place, everybody thinks it's about the plague, not about cholera or some other pestilence. The UL is remarkably invariable in this regard.
In the second place, nothing in the poem suggests disease. Even the more-recent "atischoo, atischoo" variant doesn't have to be disease-related. If you're willing to admit that it's not about the bubonic plague, why cling to a disease interpretation?
There's no reason it has to be "about" anything, is there? Children's rhymes are full of nonsense phrases: "Hey diddle diddle," "Hickory, dickory dock," "Ding, dong, bell," etc. No one wonders about the "real meaning" of "the dish ran away with the spoon." "Where does it come from?" is a better question to ask.
No one knows for sure, of course, but Philip Hiscock, a folklorist at Memorial University in Newfoundland, argues that the rhyme likely originated as a way of skirting Protestant bans on dancing:
"Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the 'play-party.' Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment. They were hugely popular, and younger children got into the act, too. Some modern nursery games, particularly those which involve rings of children, derive from these play-party games. 'Little Sally Saucer' (or 'Sally Waters') is one of them, and 'Ring Around the Rosie' seems to be another. The rings referred to in the rhymes are literally the rings formed by the playing children."
The "F" designation is entirely appropriate.
Granted, we'll never prove that the rhyme didn't somehow elude the prying folklorists for several centuries, since proving a negative is impossible. And anything you like can be "proven" by literary interpretation.
ULs usually get marked "Fb" if there is no evidence to support them and there's no reason to believe they're true. In this case the naysayers have a substantial amount of evidence. It's true that it's indirect evidence, but so what? As Harry MF Teasley suggests:
"The fact that the UL about the rhyme's origin feeds our sense of irony and sounds logical is what keeps it alive so strongly. It has no basis in fact whatsoever. There is no evidence for the UL. You may go ahead and place your faith in your own idea of the rhyme's genesis, but I'm going to place my faith in the thousands of people thoughout history and working today who have made it their business to record and study all they could about humanity and its behavior."