A Little Happier: Why I Often Find Myself Reciting This Nursery Rhyme. Is It Well-Known, or Not?

I love maxims, koans, aphorisms, fables, and teaching stories and jokes of all kinds. For a long time I assumed that everyone knew the same stories that I did, but I’ve learned that many people have never heard the stories that I’ve heard.

For instance, one of my favorites is a short nursery rhyme that I often allude to, about Jack Sprat and his wife. I wasn’t sure if this story was commonly known, so I asked my daughter Eleanor what she thought.

“No,” she told me, “I’m sure that lots of people don’t know it. I made a joke about it with my friends just the other day, and no one knew what I was talking about.”

It’s a nursery rhyme that comes in handy to describe a common situation. If you’ve heard someone mention this rhyme, but you didn’t know what they were referring to, here it is:

Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.

I asked Eleanor, “How did you use it?”

“Two of my friends were sharing a bag of dried mango,” she told me. “One said, ‘I like the hard pieces of mango better,’ and the other said, ‘I like the soft pieces.’ And I said, ‘You’re like Jack Sprat and his wife,’ but they didn’t know what I was talking about.”

So that’s the story of Jack Sprat. I love to learn teaching stories, rhymes, jokes, and fables, so if you have any you especially enjoy, or that you find yourself quoting often, please send them my way.

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