There was no reason why boys didn’t use skipping ropes, we just didn’t.

Skipping was for girls and boxers.

The speed at which some boxers could skip was extraordinary. How heavily-muscled men could be so light on their feet was a mystery to a flat footed schoolboy who would have become immediately entangled in the rope.

In retrospect, the reason why boxers did skipping and other sportsmen did not is unclear. Perhaps it was because boxers had to work within the space of the gym, perhaps it was because it was particularly important for them to be able to move quickly and lightly so as to have the best chance of avoiding the blows of an opponent.

In school, girls did skipping. Their skipping was an altogether more sedate affair than that of the pugilists, not for them the rapid swing of the rope and staccato beat of feet on the floor. Instead there were songs and rhymes to be sung as the skipping took place.

One rhyme in particular remains:

Salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper,
French almond rock.
Bread and butter for your supper.
That’s all mother’s got.

The Wikipedia entry on skipping-rope rhymes is less than convincing. Which explorers? Where? And how many girls from poor families wore ‘pantalettes’?

Explorers reported seeing aborigines jumping with vines in the 16th century. European boys started jumping rope in the early 17th century. The activity was considered indecent for girls because they might show their ankles. There were no associated chants. This changed in the early 18th century. Girls began to jump rope. They added the chants, owned the rope, controlled the game, and decided who participated.

In the United States, domination of the activity by girls occurred when their families moved into the cities in the late 19th century. There, they found sidewalks and other smooth surfaces conducive to jumping rope, along with a host of contemporaries.

Another source suggests that, prior to 1833, the invention of pantalettes enabled girls to jump rope without displaying ankles.

Chants are intended to structure the game and are secondary, explaining the nonsense or irrational lyrics. These chants are unusual inasmuch as they were transmitted from child to child usually without an underlying reason, as opposed to nursery rhymes which were transmitted from adult to child and often contained a moral. Chants may contain girlish references to boyfriends or marriage.

The suggestion of a ‘sidewalk’ being necessary for skipping is contradicted by the experience of many of us who grew up seeing girls skipping in fields and on lawns.

Anyone who recalls the songs will know they are unusual, no explanation is offered regarding their source or transmission.

Why did girls sing about condiments and inadequate meals?

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