Hey Diddle Diddle

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"Hey Diddle Diddle"
Hey Diddle Diddle 2 - WW Denslow - Project Gutenberg etext 18546.jpg
Illustration by William Wallace Denslow
Nursery rhyme
Published c. 1765
Songwriter(s) Unknown
In this Randolph Caldecott rendition, a dish, spoon, and other utensils are anthropomorphized while a cat in a red jacket holds a fiddle in the manner of a string bass.

"Hey Diddle Diddle" (also "Hi Diddle Diddle", "The Cat and the Fiddle", or "The Pig Jumped Over the Moon") is an English nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19478.[1]


A common modern version of the rhyme is:

Hey Diddle Diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed,
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon. [2]

The rhyme is the source of the English expression "over the moon", meaning "delighted, thrilled, extremely happy".[3]


The rhyme may date back to at least the sixteenth century, some references suggest it dates back in some form a thousand or more years: in early medieval illuminated manuscripts a cat playing a fiddle was a popular image.[4] There is a reference in Thomas Preston's play A lamentable tragedy mixed ful of pleasant mirth, conteyning the life of Cambises King of Percia, printed in 1569 that may refer to the rhyme:

They be at hand Sir with stick and fiddle;
They can play a new dance called hey-diddle-diddle.[2]

Another possible reference is in Alexander Montgomerie's The Cherry and the Slae from 1597:

But since you think't an easy thing
To mount above the moon,
Of your own fiddle take a spring
And dance when you have done.[5]

The name "Cat and the Fiddle" was a common name for inns, including one known to have been at Old Chaunge, London by 1587.[5]

The earliest recorded version of the poem resembling the modern form was printed around 1765 in London in Mother Goose's Melody with the lyrics:

Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump'd over the Moon,
The little dog laugh'd to see such Craft,
And the Fork ran away with the Spoon.[2]


There are numerous theories about the origin of the rhyme, including: James Orchard Halliwell's suggestion that it was a corruption of ancient Greek, probably advanced as a result of a deliberate hoax; that it was connected with Hathor worship; that it refers to various constellations (Taurus, Canis Minor, etc.); that it describes the Flight from Egypt; that it depicts Elizabeth, Lady Katherine Grey, and her relationships with the earls of Hertford and Leicester; that it deals with anti-clerical feeling over injunctions by Catholic priests for harder work; that it describes Katherine of Aragon (Katherine la Fidèle); Catherine, the wife of Peter the Great; Canton de Fidèle, a supposed governor of Calais and the game of cat (trap-ball).[2] This profusion of unsupported explanations was satirised by J.R.R. Tolkien in his fictional explanations of 'The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late'.[6] Most scholarly commentators consider these to be unproven and state that the verse is probably meant to be simply nonsense.[2]


The melody commonly associated with the rhyme was first recorded by the composer and nursery rhyme collector James William Elliott in his National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs (1870).[7]

In popular culture[edit]

There are several variants of the following joke:

A pilot returning from a mission could not locate his aircraft carrier and in addition failed to establish secure communication. So he circled around the formation and radioed: "Rub-a-dub-dub, where is my tub?" And received: "Hey Diddle Diddle! Right here in the middle!"

Some memoirs claim it was a real incident.[8]


  1. ^ "Roud Folksong Index S298441 Sing hey , diddle 'diddle, the cat and the fiddle". Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. English Folk Dance and Song Society. Retrieved May 20, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 203–4.
  3. ^ Julia Cresswell, Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (2010, ISBN 0199547939), page 279, entry moon
  4. ^ "Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts" (Penguin Random House, 2016, 1st ed), Christopher de Hamel, p323
  5. ^ a b C. R. Wilson and M. Calore, Music in Shakespeare: a Dictionary (London: Continuum, 2005), ISBN 0826478468, p. 171.
  6. ^ S. H. Gale, Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese (London: Taylor & Francis, 1996), p. 1127.
  7. ^ J. J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (Courier Dover Publications, 5th edn., 2000), ISBN 0486414752, p. 502.
  8. ^ The Escort Carriers In Action: The Story, In Pictures, Of The Escort Carrier Force, US Pacific Fleet, 1945 (public domain archive)