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What does 'this little piggy went to market' mean? It's darker than you think

Iram Sharifah Khan February 11, 2021
what does this little piggy went to market mean

Coming into adulthood you start to realise, not all is as it seemed growing up. We learn things like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause are fictional, the Boogeyman is an allegory and children’s nursery rhymes often have dark meanings. People are now wondering about the real meaning behind “this little piggy went to market”. Keep reading to find out!

What does ‘this little piggy went to market’ mean?

“What does this little piggy went to market mean?”, you ask. Let’s break it down for you.

The nursery rhyme “This little piggy” goes like this:

This little piggy went to the market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home.

Sounds fun, right? The rhyme is recited to toddlers while holding up one toe at a time. Each toe representing a piggy, with the final “pig” being the pinky toe.

However, the rhyme has a pretty dark meaning behind it, that many people are just finding out about now. Social media users have taken to Reddit and Twitter startled at the innocence-crushing meaning behind ‘this little piggy went to market”.

The real meaning is darker than you think

The real meaning behind the nursery rhyme is this:

“This little piggy went to market” means that it was more than likely butchered and sold off to a market, or was on its way to the slaughterhouse.

“This little piggy stayed home” – it managed to survive another day without being slaughtered and is safe, for now.

“This little piggy had roast beef”: this unfortunate piggy was being fattened up to be sold for a pretty penny. It was likely fed a cow that lived on the same farm, whom it was more than likely familiar with.

“This little piggy had none.” This pig was being starved. A farmer would not starve its pig unless they wanted it to eat anything in sight – say, the dismembered body of something or someone you are trying to get rid of.

“This little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home” – this pig was sent back to the farm to be slaughtered another day, the “wee wee wee” being squeals of terror.

The real meaning behind each little piggy represents a horrifying intrusion of the real world into kids’ nursery rhymes – and serves as a stark reminder about how meat is harvested.

This Twitter user couldn’t have explained it better:

Origin of the nursery rhyme: This Little Piggy

The first appearance of This Little Pig was in Tommy Thumb’s little storybook circa 1760. It appeared in the book alongside popular British children’s rhymes such as Little Boy Blue, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Hickory Dickory Dock and London Bridge Is Falling Down.

This Little Piggy is now commonly used in British households and playgrounds, with many kids none the wiser to its real meaning. We can finally understand the expression “ignorance is bliss.”

Other dark children’s rhymes

Other rhymes that are not as they seem include:

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

This rhyme is said to have been based on Queen Mary I, otherwise known as Bloody Mary. This is how it goes:

Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.

According to Closer, “silver bells and cockle shells were instruments of torture” that were used to murder Protestants at a time when Protestants and Catholics were at war with one another. The garden refers to Queen Mary’s personal burial grounds for those she had killed.

Ring Around The Rose

The meaning behind this rhyme relates to The Great Plague of London, 1665. The rhyme goes: “Ring Around The Rosie, Ring around the rosie, Pocket full of posies, Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down.”

Seems harmless enough, right? Kids would hold hands and skip in a circle while singing in innocent play. The real meaning, however, holds a dark history.

The “rosie” in the song related to the redness and skin eruptions that were seen on many afflicted with the plague. Posies were a type of flower, used in the beaks and masks of doctors to cover the smell of death. Finally, “we all fall down” refers to all the victims of the plague that perished.

There are many other nursery rhymes that feature themes such as murder, death, prostitution, such as London’s Burning, Three Blind Mice, Jack & Jill and more! You just have to REALLY listen to the words.

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Iram is a London-based freelance journalist with a BA in Journalism and Media from Birkbeck University. She studied several modules, including Journalism in British Life, Interview skills and Feature Writing, Introduction to Journalism Practice and Manga and Anime. Iram went from university to work with GRV Media at The Focus Writers’ Academy and enjoys learning Japanese, taking singing lessons, playing video games and watching Korean dramas in her spare time.