Why the Dish Ran Away With The Spoon
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. Goose, Mother (ed.) , Traditional English Nursery Rhyme
I looked at the bathroom calendar this morning, as I do every morning. It is a calendar of daily New Yorker cartoons. Some of them are funny, some are not and every now and then, like this morning, there is one that I don’t understand. It was a picture of a tall slender spoon standing in his bedroom doorway. He was looking down on a bed where there was a dish (both the spoon and the dish had facial features). In bed with the dish were a small knife, fork and spoon. If you look hard, the large spoon looks angry and the dish sheepish. The caption of the cartoon is the spoon saying “My wife, the good silver “. I stared for awhile and puzzled as Dr. Seuss once said until my puzzler was sore. Then I took it into the den and puzzled some more. What did it mean ? I gave up and put it back.
A few minutes later my wife came downstairs and I asked her to take a look at today’s cartoon. There was a short pause and she came in to explain it to me. “It’s from that nursery rhyme, ‘the dish ran away with the spoon’. The spoon is mad because she’s sleeping with the other cutlery.” I thought about it, “But why are the other cutlery so small, I thought that the spoon and dish were married and those were their kids. “ Then it hit me, they had to be small for the dish and the spoon to eat with them. They could not be big spoons. They were not just any old place setting, they were the good silver, probably from the dish and spoon’s wedding gifts. The fact that they were animated and capable of sexual relations was somewhat odd, but I guess it was the New Yorker’s cartoon, they could live in any kind of world they wanted.
So that was the joke, the dish was a slut (and had a fetish for silverware), she had first run away with the spoon and then betrayed him by having group sex with a bunch of midget kitchen implements ,although I think that the P.C. term is “little implements”. Well, I guess that is pretty funny. If you are misogynistic, or even anti-crockery.
“What rhyme is that from ? “ I asked Rayda, all I could remember was the previous line, “the little dog laughed to see such sport”. The rest was lost and it upset me greatly as all memory loss does. She could not remember either.
Of course, a quick Google search turned up the fact that it was the “Hey diddle diddle” rhyme which also contains another one of the most evocative and best loved phrases in the English language, “The cow jumped over the moon”. That, my friends is writing. As I found the rhyme I also found long histories of the rhyme which is apparently Elizabethan era in origin. I won’t bore you with many of the details, most “scholars” believe….well, wait a minute, let’s hold it right there for a minute. Scholars ? There are nursery rhyme scholars ? PHDs who go to conventions and publish in journals about Little Jack Horner and Baa baa Black Sheep ? It seems that there are. Iona and Peter Opie are two of the better known, but there are many. Back to our narrative, scholars differ on the details but most believe that the dish and spoon were the personal server and taster for Elizabeth I who ran off together without royal permission and ended up in the tower of London after they were apprehended. The cat in the rhyme is Elizabeth herself and the fiddle is some royal boyfriend. Some of the analysis I looked at seems strained, but who am I to argue with a nursery rhyme scholar ?
About “Hey diddle diddle”? Turns out that’s just a phrase used in songs in those days like “with a hey nonny non”, that type thing. One of the best song writers of our time is Paul Simon. When asked what “lie da lie” meant in his classic composition “The Boxer”, he laughed and said that it was a “failure of lyric” In another words, a filler, a direct descendent of Hey diddle diddle. If Simon relies on fillers, what hope is there for the rest of us (cucu ca ju)?
But back (although only briefly) to the dish and the spoon. It is sad to see the dish bearing the brunt of the bad press. There are lots of reasons why people run off and it very seldom has to do with the female being a slut. For all we know ,the dish was in an abusive relationship which could have left her cracked or broken. I don’t know what caused the extra marital affair in the cartoon, but let us judge not. Rather let us examine the spoon for any possible tarnish on his reputation (or handle). The spoon was equally guilty (if anyone was) in the elopement, perhaps he was a cad who was in the process of casting the dish aside (which could have had calamitous effects), who knows ?We will just have to leave it to the scholars to debate.