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"Tinker Tailor"
Roud #802
Written by Traditional
Published 1695
Written England
Language English
Form Nursery Rhyme

"Tinker Tailor" is a counting game, nursery rhyme and fortune telling song traditionally played in England, that can be used to count cherry stones, buttons, daisy petals and other items. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 802.



The most common modern version is:

Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.[1]


A similar rhyme has been noted in William Caxton's, The Game and Playe of the Chesse (c. 1475), in which pawns are named: "Labourer, Smith, Clerk, Merchant, Physician, Taverner, Guard and Ribald."[1]

The first record of the opening four professions being grouped together is in William Congreve's Love for Love (1695), which has the lines:

A Soldier and a Sailor, a Tinker and a Taylor,
Had once a doubtful strife, sir.[1]

When the James Orchard Halliwell collected the rhyme in the 1840s it was for counting buttons with the lines: "My belief - a captain, a colonel, a cow-boy, a thief."[2] The version printed by William Wells Newell in Games and Songs of American Children in 1883 was: "Rich man, Poor man, beggar-man, thief, Doctor, lawyer (or merchant), Indian chief", and it may be from American tradition that the modern lyrics solidified.[1]

Alternative versions

A. A. Milne's Now We are Six (1927) had the following version of "Cherry stones":

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Or what about a cowboy, policeman, jailer, engine driver, or a pirate chief?
Or what about a ploughman or a keeper at the zoo,
Or what about a circus man who lets the people through?
Or the man who takes the pennies on the roundabouts and swings,
Or the man who plays the organ or the other man who sings?
Or What about the rabbit man with rabbits in his pockets
And what about a rocket man who's always making rockets?
Oh it's such a lot of things there are and such a lot to be
That there's always lots of cherries on my little cherry tree.[3]

The tinker, tailor is one part of a longer counting or divination game, often played by young girls to foretell their futures; it runs as follows:

When shall I marry?
This year, next year, sometime, never.
What will my husband be?
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man, thief.
What will I be?
Lady, baby, gypsy, queen.
What shall I wear?
Silk, satin, cotton, rags (or silk, satin, velvet, lace)
How shall I get it?
Given, borrowed, bought, stolen.
How shall I get to church?
Coach, carriage, wheelbarrow, cart.
Where shall I live?
Big house, little house, pig-sty, barn.

During the divination, the girl will ask a question and then count out a series of actions or objects by reciting the rhyme. The rhyme is repeated until the last of the series of objects or actions is reached. The last recited term or word is that which will come true. Buttons on a dress, petals on a flower, bounces of a ball, number of jumps over a rope, etc., may be counted.

There are innumerable variations of the rhyme:

  • A
Daisy, daisy, who shall it be?
Who shall it be who will marry me?
Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief,
Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief,
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor.
  • B
Grandmother, Grandmother,
What shall I wear?
Silk, satin, calico, cotton.
  • C
Where shall we live?
Big house, little house, pigsty, barn.
  • D
How many children shall we have?
One, two, three, four, five, six, etc.

References in popular culture

In literature

Rich man, poor man,
Beggar man, thief.
Doctor, lawyer,
Merchant, chief.
  • In J. M. Coetzee's novel Slow Man, character Elizabeth Costello postulates on Drago Jokic's future, claiming he can "be sailor or soldier or tinker or tailor" (p. 191).
  • Michael Ondaatje's novel, Anil's Ghost, features the main character Anil uncovering clues to the murder of a skeleton she finds and names 'Sailor' after the rhyme, as well as the uncovering of three others she names 'Tinker', 'Tailor' and 'Soldier'.

In music

  • A verse in the Irish rebel song "On the One Road" goes:
Tinker, tailor, every mother's son,
Butcher, baker, shouldering a gun,
Rich man, poor man, every man in line,
All together just like Auld Lang Syne!
  • The Yardbirds recorded "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor" for the album Little Games using this rhyme in one of the verses: "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor / Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief / Doctor, baker, fine shoe-maker / Wise man, madman, taxman, please".
  • A line in the song "Dandelion" by The Rolling Stones echoes the rhyme: "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailors' lives/Rich man, poor man, beautiful daughters, wives".
  • There is a reference on the Queen II album of the rock band Queen. "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" contains the lyrics: "Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, ploughboy / Waiting to hear the sound".
  • The song "Crossed-eyed Mary", by prog rock band Jethro Tull featured in the album Aqualung, begins with the line "Who would be a poor man, a beggar man, a thief, if he had a rich man in his hand?"
  • Art rock band Supertramp included the line "Soldier, sailor, who's your tailor?" on the song "Just Another Nervous Wreck" from the "Breakfast in America" album.
  • AC/DC includes the line "Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief" in their song, "Sin City."
  • Tom Waits' song Heartattack and Vine includes the line 'doctor lawyer beggar man thief'
  • Tom Waits' song "Soldier's Things" from the album Swordfishtrombones includes the line 'A tinker, a taylor a soldier's things'
  • The Rutles parody of The Beatles "Goose Steppin' Mama" includes the lines "While you tinker with some tailor, Someone sold yer to a sailor"[4]
  • Greg Graffin's closing song "One More Hill" on his album Cold as the Clay opens with the line "Rich man, poor man, beggar or thief, no matter which one in this life you lead"

In television

  • Television show Dead Like Me includes the line, "In a lifetime we get to be many things. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Doctor, lawyer, indian chief. Daughter, sister, scout, college dropout, friend, dead girl. Or maybe we just play the parts for a couple hours until the curtain falls," in the closing narrative voice over of episode 11, titled "Ashes To Ashes", of season 2.


  • In the 4th volume of Hellsing Ultimate, a British warship is taken over by a Millennium vampire named Rip Van Winkle. At several points in the OVA she says "Tinker, Tailor. Soldier, Sailor... My bullet punishes all without distinction."


  1. ^ a b c d I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 404-5.
  2. ^ J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales: A Sequel to the Nursery Rhymes of England (London: J. R. Smith, 1849), p. 222.
  3. ^ A. A. Milne,Now We are Six (London: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1927), pp. 19-21.
  4. ^
  • Gomme, Alice Bertha. The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland. London: David Nutt (1898).
  • Hazlitt, W. Carew. Faiths and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated (Brand's Popular Antiquities of Great Britain). London: Reeves and Turner (1905).


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