It’s probably time to seriously question This Old Man. The question is simply if This Old Man should be given a lifelong appointment to spend time with our children.

So who exactly is “This Old Man”? You’ve heard of him: he’s the man who “played one.” To be clear, we are referring to the Old Man in the nursery rhyme that starts:

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give a dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.


It’s easy to think of the old man as a gentle and playful grandfatherly figure but we have to be open to the possibility that he came from a lifetime background of wealth and privilege where he may not have been held accountable for his transgressions and where it may have been acceptable to withhold the truth for his own advantage.

Even if he attended an Ivy League school, we can’t assume that he did not participate in or even instigate wild parties at fraternities or secret societies with questionable initiation practices and drinking rituals that pushed by the limits of decent behavior. How many times did This Old Man come “rolling home” after a night of jollification? As we may suspect, what happens in those Ivy League schools often stays in those Ivy League schools.

Since I wrote about the trouble with Jack and Jill, people have been coming forth after years of silence to admit that they were scared senseless by children’s stories that have questionable characters and plot lines. It’s likely our thought patterns were damaged in our youth by learning songs such as “Ring Around the Rosy” and hearing children’s stories like “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

The Old Man song carries on for a total of ten problematic verses progressing from the thumb to shoe, knee, door, hive and spine before the last verse which, disturbingly, states that the pattern repeats as “This old man, he played ten, He played knick-knack once again.…”

All this begs the question: He played one what? Or, does “one” make a reference that there are more left to play? Studying the lyrics, we find he played “knick-knack.” This is an Americanized version of bric-a-brac which are curios, a step down from trinkets and an order of magnitude lower than art objects. Bottom line: we definitely are not talking art here.

Moving onto “paddywack” (also spelled paddywhack), research shows that it’s the common name for the nuchal ligament: a strong, elastic band of connective tissue located in the neck of ungulates like cattle, sheep, buffalo and of course the yak (which curiously rhymes with knack). More intriguing, dried paddywhack is often sold as a doggie treat. It is not a bone that you “give a dog,” but neither treat nor paddywhack rhyme with home so, in the song, “bone” will have to do. And yes, bone qualifies as only a near rhyme but it’s good enough for kids who are more concerned with the knick-knack man than they are with perfect rhymes.

Is this all making more sense now?

Is the Old Man more from the scary side or the elderly gentleman type? I mean who is more likely to be playing knick-knack on your shoe? The scene just drips with creepiness:

“Yes, Mary, I could have played three knick-knacks on your thumb but your thumb is so small I chose only to play one.”

“I’m not sure I like how you play knick-knack on any part of me, Mr. Man.”

“What do you say we save out three knick-knacks to play on your knee? Your knee is much bigger than your thumb.”

“Mom! The knick-knack man is bothering me again.”

“And when we get to nine, we can play those on your spine.”

“Get away from me you, you … you old man!”

Turns out that “paddywhack” is also an informal word for a spanking. Hmm.

It’s plain to see that This Old Man really deserves a thorough federal investigation and should not be allowed to play one or any number on any child’s parts until we have all of the facts laid out for us.

No, no, it’s beyond that now. The issues have been muddled by too many competing claims and too much emotion. We really need to find another character to tend to our children. Let’s just forget This Old Man and find someone else.

And please, don’t even get me started on Humpty Dumpty.