In the nursery rhyme “This old man” played Knick knack on my knee, etc. I always assumed it was just nonsense rhyming. Was it a real thing?

This old man, he played one, He played knick-knack on my thumb, With a knick-knack paddywhack, Give the dog a bone, This old man came rolling home.

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    The question includes a link to the Wikipedia article on the nursery rhyme/song "This Old Man," which (it seems to me) constitutes a show of research. The Wikipedia article delves into the history of the song, but it doesn't have any pertinent information on what "playing knick-knack" means. It seems to me that the prerequisite to include research is now satisfied, and that, accordingly, the question should be reopened.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 26, 2017 at 22:15
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    Another possibility: urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nick%20nack%20paddy%20wack
    – Davo
    Nov 27, 2017 at 12:56
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    @Davo - Yeah, that was my original impression of the meaning of "nick-nack", from when I was a kid and Eisenhower was president.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 28, 2017 at 2:19

1 Answer 1


As suggested by the following source, knickknack may refer to tapping out a rhythm usin a spoon.

This traditional rhyme was first published in 1906 but almost certainly originates from earlier possibly from the time of the Irish potato famine.

The biggest clue to the meaning lies in the lyrics most particularly 'paddywhack' and to a lesser extent 'knick-knack'.

A knick-knack is a trinket or other trivial object. Knick-knack may also refer to the practice of tapping out a rhythm using spoons.


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