You will never believe what these lullabies are really about

I’m in baby land!

As with any parent, I am suddenly interested in children songs, namely those that I have been hearing & singing all my life:

“Il était un petit navire,” “Au clair de la lune,” … Who did not hear these playful catchy tunes about a happy little boat floating on the Mediterranean, the soothing moonlight, and our friend Pierrot?

Here are the lyrics of those popular songs & lullabies -in French:

Il était un petit navire
Qui n’avait jamais navigué
Ohé ! Ohé ! Matelot, navigue sur les flots…

Here is another one, with a tune so simple, you can easily play it on a piano:

Au clair de la lune,
Mon ami Pierrot,
Prête-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot.
Ma chandelle est morte,
Je n’ai plus de feu.
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l’amour de Dieu

What could be more innocent and suitable for babies?


WRONG!! I don’t know if I ever heard the whole song in the correct form, or if I simply did not pay enough attention.

Let us look more carefully into the lyrics:

Here is a short version:

Il Etait un Petit Navire

French English
Il était un petit navire
Qui n’avait jamais navigué
Ohé, ohé…
There was a little ship
That had never sailed
Ahoy! Ahoy!
Il partit pour un long voyage
Sur la mer Méditerrannée
Ohé, ohé…
It undertook a long voyage
On the Mediterranean Sea
Ohé, ohé Matelot
Matelot navigue sur les flots
Ahoy matey,
Matey sails the sea.
Au bout de cinq à six semaines
Les vivres vinrent à manquer
After five or six weeks
The food ran out
On tira à la courte paille
Pour savoir qui-qui-qui serait mangé
They drew straws
To find out who would be eaten
Le sort tomba sur le plus jeune
C’est donc lui qui sera mangé
The short straw went to the youngest one
On cherche alors à quelle sauce
Le pauvre enfant sera mangé
They tried to figure out with which sauce
The poor child should be cooked

Des p’tits poissons dans le navire
Sautèrent par-par-par et par milliers

Soon, little fish jumped
Into the ship by the thousands

WTF did I just listen to??? Sailors debating what sauce to eat the unlucky shipmate with?? The song is thought to reference to the Medusa’s wreck.

Ohé ! Ohé ! Matelot.

One wanted him fried

The other wanted him fricasseed

Au Clair de la Lune

French English
Au clair de la lune,
Mon ami Pierrot,
Prête-moi ta lume
Pour écrire un mot.
Ma chandelle est morte,
Je n’ai plus de feu.
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l’amour de Dieu.
Under the moonlight,
my friend Pierrot,
lend me your pen
to write a word.
My candle is dead
I don’t have a light anymore
open your door for me
for God’s sake.

A light, letters, door, a god… That is enough to make you pause & wonder, what does all this incoherence even mean?

Let us keep going:

Au clair de la lune,
Pierrot répondit :
“Je n’ai pas de plume,
Je suis dans mon lit.
Va chez la voisine,
Je crois qu’elle y est,
Car dans sa cuisine
On bat le briquet.”
Under the moonlight
Pierrot answered:
« I have no pens
I’m in my bed,
go to the neighbour’s house
I believe she’s in
because in her kitchen
the lighting stone is used. »
Au clair de la lune,
L’aimable Lubin;
Frappe chez la brune,
Elle répond soudain :
–Qui frappe de la sorte?
Il dit à son tour :
–Ouvrez votre porte,
Pour le Dieu d’Amour.[…]
Under the moonlight
the gentle Lubin
knocks on the brunette’s door,

she answers suddenly
who knocks this way?
He then says:
open your door for me
for God’s sake.


Au clair de la lune,
Pierrot se rendort,
Il rêve à la lune,
Son coeur bat très fort,
Car toujours si bonne,
Pour l’enfant tout blanc,
La lune lui donne,
Son croissant d’argent.
Under the moonlight
Pierrot falls asleep again.
He dreams of the moon,
his heart beats very hard:
because always gently
for the pale child
the moon gives him
her silver half-moon.

Supposedly, this song is rife with innuendos and is really about the singer becoming flaccid (Je n’ai plus de feu), and turning to Pierrot and the neighbor to light up the flame.

Another song ruined for me.


French English
Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.Je te plumerai les ailes.
Et le cou!
Et les yeux!
Et le bec!
Et la tête!
Lark, nice lark
Lark, I’ll pluck you
I’ll pluck your wings
And your neck
And your eyes
And your beak
And your head

This Canadian song is obviously about plucking the feather of the poor alouette (a horned lark), iterating over body parts.

I do not want to find out how you pluck alouette’s eyes. What a horrible theme!

Could this song be about a cooking show?


Une souris verte

French English
Une souris verte
Qui courait dans l’herbe
Je l’attrape par la queue,
Je la montre à ces messieurs
Ces messieurs me disent :
Trempez-la dans l’huile,
Trempez-la dans l’eau,
Ça fera un escargot
Tout chaud.
A green mouse
Running through the grass
I catch it by the tail
I show it to those men
Those men tell me
“Dip it in oil
Dip it in water
It will turn into a snail…
A hot one!”

Not sure which is worse, plucking a bird, or dipping a green mouse in oil to transform it into a warm snail.

Apparently, the mouse is not the only one running in weed. Can you think of a dumber song to teach children??

Yalla Tnam Rima

And for the grande finalle, Yalla Tnam Rima by Fairuz, from the movie Bint Al Hariss.

Can you find anything peculiar here?


 English Arabic 
Sleep Rima, May she become sleepy ﻴﻟﻼ تنام ريما ﻴﻟﻼ يجيها النوم
May she grow loving to pray and to fast ﻴﻟﻼ تحب الصلاة ﻴﻟﻼ تحب الصوم
May she become healthier each day ﻴﻟﻼ تجيها العوافي كل يوم بيوم
May she go to sleep and I will butcher a pigeon ﻴﻟﻼ تنام ﻴﻟﻼ تنام لادبحلا طير الحمام
Go pigeon bird, don’t believe what I am saying,
I just say it, so that Rima will sleep
روح يا حمام لا تصدق بضحك عا ريما تتنام
Beautiful Rima, you have blond & clean hair ريما ريما الحندقا شعرك أشقر و منقى
The one who loves you shall kiss,
and the one who hates you will go away
ويلي حبك بيبوسك
يلي بغضك شو بيترقى
Oh merchants of grapes and of jujube,
tell my mother and my father
يا بياعي العنب و العنابية
قولو لأمي قولو لبيي
the gypsies have kidnapped me from below the tent of Majdaliyyeh خطفوني الغجر من تحت خيمة مجدليي
there are prunes under the apricot tree و التشتشي التشتشي و الخوخ تحت المشمشه
and each time the wind blows ,
I will pick an apricot for Rima
و كل ما هب الهوا لأقطف لريما مشمشه
Hey Lina , lend us your kettle and bowl هاي و هاي و هاي لينا دستك لكنك عيرينا
So that we wash the clothes of Rima,
and hang them up on the jasmine tree
تنغسل تياب ريما
و ننشرهن عاليسمينا

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