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The Hoax Behind Little Bunny Foo Foo

An excerpt from Neal Whitman's book-in-progress, The Babbler's Lexicon, explains how "Little Bunny Foo Foo" became the Forrest Gump of English literature.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
February 21, 2014
Episode #402

Page 1 of 3

little bunny foo foo

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Sung at summer camps and preschools for generations, “Little Bunny Foo Foo” is a partly sung, partly spoken piece of folklore. But where did it come from? We don’t know exactly, but we’ll tell you what we do know, and steer you away from some misinformation from a surprising source. 

“Little Bunny Foo Foo” goes like this:

(sung)

Little Bunny Foo Foo, hoppin’ through the forest,

Scoopin’ up the field mice and boppin’ ‘em on the head.

(spoken)

Down came the Good Fairy, and she said,

(sung)

Little Bunny Foo Foo, I don’t want to see you

Scoopin’ up the field mice and boppin’ ‘em on the head.

(spoken)

I’ll give you three chances, and then I’ll turn you into a goon!

The words are usually accompanied by hand movements illustrating bunny ears and the scooping and bopping. The Good Fairy’s prohibition, as in any folk-story, is followed by a violation—three, in fact, and the Good Fairy makes good on her threat. Then the skit concludes with a pun that has seemingly no relation to the morality of the rest of the story: “And the moral is: Hare today, goon tomorrow!”

The sung parts have the melody of the French Canadian song “Alouette,” which was first published in 1879. Although some people also identify it with “Down by the Station” or “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” “Alouette” is the best match, because its melody matches that of “Bunny Foo Foo” all the way through “bopping them on the head.” The melodies of “Down by the Station” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” match only up to the word “forest,” but you’ll have to sing those songs yourself to verify this. I’m done singing for this episode!

As a piece of folklore passed on primarily as a piece of oral tradition, “Little Bunny Foo Foo” has numerous versions. They vary in whether the name is Foo Foo or Frou Frou, whether they use the words “bunny” or “rabbit,” and other details, too. In written versions, spelling and punctuation add even more possibility for variation, as “foo” can be spelled F-O-O, F-U, F-O-U, or even P-H-O-O, with the syllables separated by a space and capitalized; hyphenated with or without a second capital; or as a single word. Similar variation exists for “frou.” 

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