Hey Diddle Diddle
|"Hey Diddle Diddle"|
Illustration by William Wallace Denslow
Lyrics and music
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 fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
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). The word "sport" in the rhyme is sometimes replaced with "fun" or "craft". 
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. 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.
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.
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 Spoon,
The little dog laugh'd to see such Craft,
And the Fork ran away with the Spoon.
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). 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'. Most scholarly commentators consider these to be unproven and state that the verse is probably meant to be simply nonsense.
- "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.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 203–4.
- Julia Cresswell, Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (2010, ISBN 0199547939), page 279, entry moon
- J. J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (Courier Dover Publications, 5th edn., 2000), ISBN 0486414752, p. 502.
- "Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts" (Penguin Random House, 2016, 1st ed), Christopher de Hamel, p323
- C. R. Wilson and M. Calore, Music in Shakespeare: a Dictionary (London: Continuum, 2005), ISBN 0826478468, p. 171.
- S. H. Gale, Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese (London: Taylor & Francis, 1996), p. 1127.