Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Le Pen, Chapayev and the Universal Rhyme

At the recent regional elections in France Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party had a good thrashing from the left and the greens. Where I live Sarkozy isn't very popular. Here is a joke I heard from a French friend.

Sarkozy et Le Pen sont sur un bateau.
Les deux tombent à l'eau.
Qui est sauvé? - La France

Sarkozy and Le Pen were sailing in a boat.
Both fell overboard. Who was saved?

I was struck by the similarity of this simpley-dimpley rhyme to the Russian one I remember since I was in primary school.

Micky-Greggy and Chapay were sailing in the boat.
Micky-Greggy fell overboard and drowned.
Who stayed in the boat?

If you were naive enough to shout: 'Chapay!', you were immediately tickled and pinched as 'Chapay' or 'Chapayev', the name of the legendary red army cossack commander, is phonetically close to the verb 'pinch' in imperative mood.

I told my Russian joke to the French who were, like me, struck by the similarity of the pattern. But it can't be just a coincidence. There must be a source for the rhyme, in French or some other language. Does anyone know what it is?

The Russian novel 'Chapayev' and the 1930s film spurred a  host of jokes with the man as the central character. 
Russian version of this post is here.

I Love Chapayev White Cap

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