Am stram gram

Am, stram, gram,
Pic et pic et colégram,
Bourre et bourre et ratatam,
Am, stram, gram.

I was teaching this French choosing rhyme (like “Eenie meenie miney moe“) to Ayo when all the sudden Tall Mountain looks at me bizarrely: “It sounds like an incantation or something!” I have heard of this rhythmic half-poem, half-song for years and never thought twice about it, just like one would never think twice about what a “pocket full of posies” is. (Apparently, a pocket full of posies is a sachet of herbs to ward off sickness from Black Death). Words are important to me and I quite like knowing the meaning behind the things that I say, so the language nerd got the better of TCK Mama again. I just had to find out the origin of this rhythmic saying. It was surprisingly difficult to find information on Am Stram Gram– one of the oldest and most well known French sayings for children.

Most of the sources say that it is in fact just a nonsensical jumble of words. But even the most nonsensical gibberish usually finds its beginnings somewhere, doesn’t it? So, after a little more digging, here are some other theories I found surrounding its origin:

  • Some think Am Stram Gram might have been a Teutonic saying used to decimate prisoners or help them to escape. “Ratatam” resembling the German word Reiter (cavalier), could be an indication of that. Today, like back then, it’s used to enumerate or used as a way to designate someone
  • Tall Mountain might have been right after all: Am Stram Gram may very well find its beginnings in a northern Shaman incantation calling out the Heavenly Wolf (in which case, I am not so sure I am comfortable teaching this to my son). The original Shamanic incantation supposedly went like this:
    Emstrang Gram
    Bigà bigà ic calle Gram
    Bure bure ic raede tan
    Emstrang Gram
  • Am Stram Gram could simply have been one of the quirky way of counting sheep
  • Lastly, it is possible that Am Stram Gram is nothing other than a form of onomatopoeia, assembled for the sheer pleasure of a child’s ear.

What we do know is that the chant seems to have over 200 variations! Am Stram Gram is the one that stuck in the French language. Another few common variations I found here are:

Belgium:

Èn, swey, drey
Pike et pike et comedeye
Boure et boure et ratatam
Moustram

Greece:

As tra dam
Piki piki ram
Pouri pouri ram
A stram dam

Brazil:

Uni Duni Te
Salame mingue
O sorvete colore
O escolhido foi você

Romania:

An tan te
Dize mane pe
Dize mane compane
An tan te

La Réunion:

Plouf
Inetikèt
Mari-bonbèt
Kani-kanèt
Trik

And finally, the English version you might be familiar with (although i find it hard to believe that it could come from the same root as Am Stram Gram):

Eennie Meenie Miney Moe
Catch a tiger by the toe
If he hollers let him go
Eennie Meenie Miney Moe

What are some of your favorite nursery rhymes or lullabies? Do you stop saying/singing a nursery rhyme when you don’t know or disagree with its meaning? Finally, if you know out more about the etymology or background of Am Stram Gram, please leave a comment below as I’d love to learn more!

12 thoughts on “Am stram gram

  1. We actually have a book (which I have yet to read) that explains the history of many English nursery rhymes…strange things that they are, “Heavy Words Lightly Thrown – The Reason Behind the Rhyme” by Chris Roberts.

  2. J’étais toujours un peu mal à l’aise quand les enfants me chantaient “une souris verte” car ils ne connaissaient que la première partie, qui finissait par “trempez-la dans l’huile, trempez-la dans l’eau, ça fera un escargot tout chaud” et ils trouvaient ça très rigolo (et moi très cruel). En fait, la chanson continue et il n’arrive rien à la souris verte, ouf !
    On a aussi beaucoup chanté “pirouette cacahouète” (mais en entier du coup) !
    Mais je n’avais jamais chanté Am Stram Gram car pour moi c’est une comptine de “choix” (quand on hésite entre deux trucs, on chante en pointant chaque truc à chaque syllabe et on choisit celui sur lequel la chanson se termine).

    1. Oui, j’avais compris “Une souris verte” comme ça aussi la première fois que je l’entendais. lol

      Au fait, Chris, est-ce que les enfants suisses romands chantent les mêmes comptines que les petits enfants français?

      1. Il y a peut-être quelques comptines suisses, mais je ne les connais pas en tant que telles – je pense qu’on chante la même chose que les enfants français 🙂

  3. We always sang

    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..

    Pretty rubbish words really but they live on from generation to generation.

    I like the rhyme from La Réunion!

  4. I’ll ask my hubby for am stram gram since he’s a school teacher (he might know)! Apparently alot of french lullabies have weird meanings, et les comptes tout simple!(I don’t know if you know the song auprès de ma blonde? ) !
    Et pour ce qui est d’une souris verte ça fait peut être que deux ans que je connais la suite! lol !
    Mais sinon lui il chante souvent à notre fille adada sur mon bidet, un éléphant qui se baladait et j’en passe.
    And since I’m the one speaking english I like the itst bisty spider, I do the one little pig went to the market .. etc , paddy cake !
    and thanks for the Eennie Meenie Miney Moe I had completly forgotten about that!!

    1. as for if I would stop singing something, I guess it would depend of the roots! Am stam gram after reading what you wrote non je voudrais pas trop.
      and super interesting about ring around the rosies, shows that you can still sing it and at the worst you’ll discover something when your older ! I love that song and my baby loves turning in circles with me and falling down at the end 🙂

  5. Have to get up to date on the German rhymes I guess. Was actually thinking this Am Stram Gram has some German origin just by the way it looks and sounds. Sooo looking forward to rediscovering my own childhood through our son 🙂

    1. Spotify is great for that, Jeanette! You can type in “nursery rhyme” or for me “comptine” and you get gazillions of fun songs for kiddos you never have to buy. We have the prime account, so we don’t get ads either. We just make playlists and sync to our phones so we can play new songs in the car and ditch the ones we are bored of. I have totally rediscovered all the French ones through that. My British auntie makes sure we have CDs of the English ones 😉

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