Baa, Baa, Black Sheep: Wikis


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"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep"
Roud #18267
Written by Traditional
Published c. 1744
Written England
Language English
Form Nursery Rhyme

Baa Baa Black Sheep is an English nursery rhyme, sung to a variant of the 1761 French melody Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman. The original form of the tune is used for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the Alphabet song. The words have changed little in two and a half centuries. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 18267.


Original version

William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose

This rhyme was first printed in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, published c. 1744 with the following lyrics:

Problems listening to this file? See media help.
Bah, Bah a black Sheep,
Have you any Wool?
Yes merry have I,
Three Bags full,
One for my master,
One for my Dame,
One for the little Boy
That lives down the lane.[1]

Origins and meaning

As with many nursery rhymes, attempts have been made to find origins and meanings for the rhyme. These include:

  • A description of the medieval 'Great' or 'Old Custom' wool tax of 1275, which survived until the fifteenth century.[1] Contrary to some commentaries, this tax did not involve the collection of one third to the king, and one third to the church, but a less punitive sum of 6s 8d to the Crown per sack, about 5 per cent of the value.[2] This theory also depends on the rhyme surviving unrecorded and even unmentioned in extant texts for hundreds of years.
  • A connection to the slave trade. This explanation was advanced during debates over political correctness and the use and reform of nursery rhymes in the 1980s, but scholars agree that it has no basis in fact.[3]

Modern version

The black sheep, according to Denslow

More recent versions tend to take the following form:

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.[1]


A second verse is sometimes also sung which finishes off the tune, again varying "boy" or "child":

Thank you said the master,
Thank you said the dame,
Thank you said the little boy who lived down the lane.

There is a different version of this song heard on a Raffi album called Corner Grocery Store and Raffi concert video called A Young Children's Concert with Raffi.

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for your sweater and one for your rug,
One for your blanket to keep you warm and snug.

Verses have also been written for other animals, such as:

Cluck, cluck, red hen, have you any eggs?
Yes sir, yes sir, as many as your legs.
One for your breakfast and one for your lunch;
Come back tomorrow and I'll have another bunch.
Moo, moo brown cow, have you milk for me?
Yes sir, yes sir, as tasty as can be.
Churn it into butter, make it into cheese,
Freeze it into ice cream or drink it if you please.
Buzz, buzz busy bee, is your honey sweet?
Yes sir, yes sir, sweet enough to eat.
Honey on your muffin, honey on your cake,
Honey by the spoonful, as much as I can make.

In other languages


Swedish version

The nursery rhyme is very common in Sweden.

Bää bää, vita lamm
Har du någon ull?
Ja, ja kära barn, jag har säcken full
Helgdagsrock åt far,
och söndagskjol åt mor
Och två par strumpor åt lille, lillebror

Originally, translated from English by August Strindberg, this rhyme started with 'Bää bää, Svarta får' ('black sheep'), but Alice Tegnér changed it to 'vita lamm' ('white lamb').

Sometimes the following is jokingly added:

Men de var för stora,
så dem fick storebror.

(But they were too large, so big brother got them.)

Translated into English the Swedish rhyme reads:

Baa, baa white lamb
Have you any wool?
Yes, yes dear child, I have the whole bag full
A holiday-robe for father,
and a Sunday-skirt for mother
And two pairs of socks for the little, little brother.

Dutch version

The Dutch version of this common nursery rhyme goes:

Schaapje, schaapje, heb je witte wol?
Ja baas, ja baas, drie zakken vol.
Eén voor de meester en één voor zijn vrouw.
Eén voor het kindje, dat bibbert van de kou.

The English translation would be:

Little sheep, little sheep, do you have white wool?
Yes boss, Yes boss, three bags full.
One for the master, one for his wife.
One for the little child, that shivers from the cold.

Norwegian version

The Norwegian Bokmål version (though with a different tune) goes:

Bæ, bæ, lille lam, har du noe ull?
Ja, ja, kjære barn, jeg har kroppen full.
Søndagsklær til far, og søndagsklær til mor
og to par strømper til bittelillebror.

The English translation would be:

Baa baa little lamb, have you any wool?
Yes, yes, dear child, I've got my body full.
Sunday's clothes for father, Sunday's clothes for mother
And two pairs of socks for the wee little brother.

Another Variation Baa Baa White Sheep Have you any cotton? No maam, No Maam 'sall gone rotten

French Version

Baa Baa mouton noir
As tu de la laine?
Oui Monsieur
Oui Monsieur
Trois sacs plein
Un pour le maître
Une pour la dame
Et un pour le petit garçon qui habite par ce chemin.

Modern controversies

A controversy emerged over changing the language of 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' in Britain from 1986, because, it was alleged in the popular press, it was seen as racially dubious. This was, as Curran, Pently and Gaber indicate, based only on a rewriting of the rhyme in one private nursery as an exercise for the children there and not on any local government policy.[4] A similar controversy emerged in 1999 when reservations about the rhyme were submitted to Birmingham City Council by a working group on racism in children's resources, which were never approved or implemented.[5] Press assertions that two private nurseries in Oxfordshire in 2006 had altered the song to "Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep"" were prompted by another attempt to allow the song to be repeated with variations.[6] Commentators have asserted that these controversies have been exaggerated or distorted by some elements of the press as part of a more general campaign against political correctness.[4]


The phrase "yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir" has been used to describe any obsequious or craven subordinate. It is attested from 1910, and originally was common in the British Royal Navy.[7]


The term 'Baa Baa Black Sheep dialect' has also been used informally in linguistics to describe varieties of English that allow the syntax "Have you any wool?" compared to the alternative "Do you have any wool?" with the auxiliary verb 'do'.[8] In the question 'Have you any wool?' the verb 'have' appears as a transitive verb with the sense of possession, however it also appears to behave like an auxiliary in the sense that it undergoes syntactic inversion.[9]

Popular culture

  • Together with "In the Mood", "Baa Baa Black Sheep" was the first song ever to be digitally saved and played on a computer.[10]
  • The nu metal band Korn used this rhyme in their song "Shoots and Ladders" which talks about the supposed sinister meaning behind nursery rhymes in the background while "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is playing.
  • A variation of this rhyme is sung by the fictitious rock-and-roll act Norma Jean Monster as part of a sketch on the television program Mr. Show. Norma Jean Monster is a parody of Marilyn Manson.


  1. ^ a b c I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 88.
  2. ^ J. Taylor and W. R. Childs, Politics and Crisis in Fourteenth Century England (London: A. Sutton, 1990), p. 22.
  3. ^ J. Lindon, Understanding Children's Play (Nelson Thornes, 2001), p. 8.
  4. ^ a b J. Curran, J. Petley, I. Gaber, Culture wars: the media and the British left (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), pp. 85-107.
  5. ^ E. Cashmore, Encyclopedia of Race and Ethnic Studies (London: Taylor & Francis, 2004), p. 321.
  6. ^ 'Nursery opts for "rainbow sheep"', BBC news, Education 07/03/06,, retrieved 02/04/08.
  7. ^ Partridge, Eric; Paul Beale (1986). A dictionary of catch phrases: British and American, from the sixteenth century to the present day (2nd revised & abridged ed.). Routledge. p. 547. ISBN 041505916X. 
  8. ^ For example, Radford, Andrew, Syntactic Theory and the Structure of English: A Minimalist Approach pages 235 – 259 talks of 'Baa Baa Black Sheep varieties of English' Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN 0521477077.
  9. ^ Radford, Syntactic Theory and the Structure of English: A Minimalist Approach, page 235
  10. ^ On a Ferranti Mark 1, the commercial version of the Manchester Mark 1 (cf. and


  • Opie, Iona and Peter, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford University Press, 1951.

See also

External links


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