‘Little Bo-Peep’s’ ‘Sinister’ Meaning Leaves Parents Stunned After Reading Lyrics

Parents have been left stunned after learning the 'sinister' meaning of 'Little Bo-Peep'.
Credit: @brandon_hell/TikTok & Alamy

Parents have been left stunned after learning the ‘sinister’ meaning behind ‘Little Bo-Peep’.

Many popular nursery rhymes have been uncovered to have sometimes sombre and dark hidden meanings behind them.

For example, ‘It’s Raining, It’s Pouring’ is actually a sad story of a man who has had a few too many drinks and is unable to get up the next morning.

While ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ follows the same tune as ‘Tipsy Dipsy Hobo’ – which is an American Civil War song about drunk people who would attempt to jump on trains, as well as encouraging children to not drink alcohol.

And now people are reading between the lines of ‘Little Bo-Peep’, and have uncovered that this nursery rhyme is also not as innocent as it seems.

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‘Little Bo-Peep’ is a popular English nursery rhyme which is instantly recognisable among children and parents alike.

However, as explained by Dr Oliver Tearle, a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University, its exact origin is ‘shrouded in mystery’.

Dr Tearle tells the Mirror that the exact words to the nursery rhyme didn’t appear in print until the early nineteenth century.

“It’s possible they had a link with the baby game ‘Bo-Peep’, otherwise known as ‘peekaboo’,” he says.

Little Bo-Peep.
The nursery rhyme ‘Little Bo-Peep’ has a dark meaning that people are only just finding out. Credit: Alamy

The full nursery rhyme reads: “Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep / And can’t tell where to find them / Leave them alone, and they’ll come home / Bringing their tails behind them.

“Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep / And dreamt she heard them bleating / But when she awoke, she found it a joke / For they were still all fleeting.

“Then up she took her little crook / Determined for to find them / She found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed / For they’d left their tails behind them.

“It happened one day, as Bo-Peep did stray / Into a meadow hard by / There she espied their tails, side by side / All hung on a tree to dry.

“She heaved a sigh and wiped her eye / And over the hillocks went rambling / And tried what she could, as a shepherdess should / To tack again each to its lambkin.”

You presume a song that begins with ‘Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, And can’t tell where to find them’ will be innocent.

But if you look closely at the rest of the words, you might begin to think twice about singing the song to young children.

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“It’s hard to imagine children dancing around and clapping to its words about a poor shepherdess who loses her flock of sheep, only to discover their tails hanging somewhat gruesomely from a tree,” Dr Tearle notes in Interesting Literature.

As to where the gruesome details concerning the tails come from, the expert comments: “We cannot say for certain.”

However, the nursery rhyme has been interpreted differently, with some suggesting it refers to smugglers – with the tails representing loot.

An excerpt of ‘Humpty Dumpty Cracked’, written by Tim Devlin, has been shared by MailOnline, it reads: “Forget about sheep. The sheep in fact were smugglers.

“Little Bo-Peep was the name of a Customs House in St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex and the customs officers were called Bo-Peep.

“They lost their sheep (smugglers) and some local wag joked: ‘Leave them alone and they’ll come home, bringing their tails (loot) behind them’.”


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A TikToker, who goes by the name @brandon_hell, has shared a clip singing the nursery rhyme aloud and thousands have reacted.

After hearing a breakdown of the lyrics, one person jokes: “Ohhh my that’s baaaaaaaad.”

Weighing in, a second says: “All nursery rhymes are bad.”

“These old nursery rhymes are so spooky,” someone else comments.

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Written by Rosario Monachino

Rosario is a content editor at IGV who specialises in film, TV and entertainment news. He has a degree in English and Film from the University of Salford and a masters in Journalism from Liverpool John Moores University.