i really enjoyed this article speculating as to the fate of the old man in the famous nursery rhyme (emphasis my own):
Vancouver has been experiencing some typical rainy weather the last few days which -- in our home at least -- means quite a few renditions of the classic nursery rhyme:
It's raining; it's pouring.
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed and bumped his head.
And he couldn't get up in the morning.
And, as often happens when someone starts singing that rhyme, I wonder: What does that last line mean exactly?
Why couldn't the old man get up in the morning? Did he die? Fall into a coma? Or was he just too lazy to get up?
To my surprise, after a fair bit of time spent searching online -- far too much time, really -- I couldn't find a clear answer.
There were lots of sites where people asked the same question, with dozens of people weighing in with their own opinion.
But no definitive evidence of what the actual intention of the original song was -- at least in part, I imagine, because the exact origins of the song are unclear.
One of the few hints I did find was in the Wikipedia entry on the song, which actually renders the last lyric as: "And he wouldn't get up in the morning." Which, hopefully for the old man, suggests that he just didn't want to get up, as opposed to not being able to.
And while I didn't find an answer to my question, I did -- in my search -- stumble across a pretty hilarious 2003 study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal that complained that "several popular nursery rhymes portray head injuries as inevitable events that do not require medical follow-up."
The section of the tongue-in-cheek paper on the old man in "It's raining, it's pouring" is particularly funny -- and specifically addresses the confusion around exactly what happened:
There are two versions [of the rhyme] The first version is presented above, but the second one changes the sequence of events so that the old man "bumped his head" then "went to bed."
Obviously, establishing the exact sequence of events is crucial to the creation of a differential diagnosis.
If the elderly gentleman bumped his head after retiring for the evening, one is forced to entertain potential foul play, seizure activity or even a postcoital MI (there is no evidence to confirm the commonly held belief that he was alone).
Also, it should be noted that he was "snoring." Could his death have been precipitated by severe obstructive sleep apnea?
If he actually bumped his head before going to sleep, the list of potential mechanisms is endless, and a good forensic investigation is required to determine the cause of death.
The notoriously poor documentation of factors precipitating head injury in nursery rhymes makes it impossible to determine what really happened in this case as well as others.
The CMAJ study also dissects the head injuries in five other nursery rhymes, including Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, Hush-a-bye-baby and 10 Little Monkeys (you know, the ones who jumped on the bed and bumped their heads).
What about you? What do you think happened to the old man in the rhyme?