Political correctness may have started in the universities, but it has begun to trickle down into other areas of American culture. I recently discovered a new series of biographies for children that includes lives not only of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln but also of former Beatles guitarist John Lennon. I also came across a book that purports to help parents locate “nonsexist reading material” for their children—as if a “nonsexist” tale were as hard to find as a spotted owl or a whooping crane. I knew things were really getting bad when I saw that a local restaurant had renamed its Indian pudding “Native American pudding.” If things keep going at this rate, it won’t be long before p.c. trickles all the way down to nursery rhymes.

When the revisionism does come, what will the new thinkers do with the old rhymes? Will “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Three Men in a Tub” be transformed into a gay liberation anthem? Will feminists insist on eliminating Peter-Peter, the Pumpkin-Eater, on the grounds that he chauvinistically tries to confine his wife in a pumpkin shell? Will they rewrite Punch and Judy so that Judy starts punching Punch back? Will they change “Old Mother Hubbard” to “Old (M)-Other Hubbard,” in keeping with the latest feminist orthography? Will they rewrite “Jack and Jill” to illustrate “the oppression of wimmin in Amerika”? if so, the new version may sound like this:

Jack sent Jill

On up the hill,

To fetch a pail of water.

Jill fell down

And tore her gown.

While Jack dissolved in laughter.

Up Jill got

And home did trot

As fast as she could scamper

To mean old Dad,

And, boy, was he mad!

“By God,” he swore, “I’ll spank

Then Jack came in,

And he did grin

To see his dad oppress her.

Jack, you cad.

You’re just like your dad.

You both are sexist bastards!

Feminists tend to be dreadfully earnest, so they probably would not hesitate to transform even the most jolly rhymes into dreary manifestos of gender sensitivity. Lewis Carroll’s “Father William” might be rewritten thusly:

“You are old. Dr. William,” the young girl said,

“And your syllabus is exceedingly white.

Your authors are pale, & they’re male, & they’re dead.

Do you think in this age it is right?”

And little girls of the future could be encouraged to jump rope while chanting:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

How does your essay go?

With language tropes, and
Foucault quotes,

And marginalized texts all in a

While it is easy enough to imagine what the feminists might do to nursery rhymes, it is a bit more difficult to guess what deconstructionists might do. There is, however, at least one nursery rhyme that, when crossed with an axiom from Paul de Man, could be made to express the deconstructionist position that all language is unstable and endlessly self-referential:

Sticks and stones

May break my bones.

But since language

Is a vertiginous system

Of signs and significations.

Rather than a codified

Pattern of meanings.

Words can never hurt me.

When the age of sensitivity is ushered in, most of the old rhymes will presumably have to be ushered out, or at least substantially rewritten. However, a few might be retained for “educational” purposes. Consider, for instance:

There was an old woman who
lived in a shoe.

She had so many children she
didn’t know what to do;

She gave them some broth
without any bread;

She whipped them all soundly
and put them to bed.

The archaic spelling of “woman” in the first line would, of course, have to be changed to the politically correct “wombyn,” but otherwise these couplets could be used to raise consciousness. Students could be made to understand that these lines represent a thinly veiled allegorical commentary on the status of “wimmin” in pre-p.c. “Amerika,” Teachers could explain that, in all likelihood, the old wombyn was forced to live in a shoe because ruthless conservatives cut funding for low-income housing. Probably she was forced to have all of those children because reactionary extremists prevented her from procuring government-subsidized birth control and abortions. The children, no doubt, were compelled to go to bed without proper nourishment because right-wing zealots cut the old wombyn’s food stamps. Of course, some might argue that it would be better if it were an old man beating the children in the last line, instead of the old wombyn. Instructors could explain, however, that the old wombyn had been unconsciously conditioned to accept such violence by the patriarchal society in which she lived.

On the whole, though, the old rhymes would have to be rewritten or replaced. In place of the old alphabet rhymes there would be new ones, such as:

“C” is for condoms, which we
keep in our pants.

“D” is for Derrida, who came here
from France . . .

Finally, given the modern obsession with sex and sexual paraphernalia, it might be appropriate to change “Hot Cross Buns” to:

Cheap Condoms!

Cheap Condoms!

One a penny, two a penny.

Cheap condoms!

If your daughters do not like them.

Give them to your sons.

Cheap Condoms!

Oh, brave new world!