Behind the Meaning of “Patty-Cake, Patty-Cake, Baker’s Man”

Sometimes the best part of a song is the dance. That is the case with the traditional nursery rhyme, “Patty-Cake, Patty-Cake, Baker’s Man.”

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Let’s dive into the song we all know and love.

The Origin

Thomas D’Urfey’s play, The Campaigners, from 1698 includes the oldest recorded version of the rhyme. That means, however, that it is likely much older than that.

In the play, the nurse recites, “…and pat a cake Bakers man, so I will master as I can, and prick it, and prick it, and prick it, and prick it, and throw’t into the Oven.”

Mother Goose

It takes nearly three-quarters of a century for the rhyme to come into recorded popular culture again, this time in Mother Goose’s Melody from 1765. That entry reads,

Patty Cake, Patty Cake,
Baker’s Man;
That I will Master,
As fast as I can
Pat it and prick it,
And mark it with a T.
And there will be enough for Tommy and me.

Later, in 1796, the earliest version of the rhyme set to music was recorded, appearing in James Hook’s A Christmas Box.

Community Ovens

Some may wonder what marking these objects means.

Well, hundreds of years ago, there were no ovens in every household. Sometimes towns would have big, hot community ovens where people could take their uncooked baked goods and put them in those ovens.

So, the amateur bakers would have to mark their wares with their own unique markings. A “T,” therefore might be the initial of a specific family’s last name or baker’s first. And to make your bread, you sometimes have to pat it and roll it and get it nice and flat. Therefore: “Patty-cake!”

Contemporary Lyrics

Today the rhyme, which has become more a rhyme for children than helpful communal baking advice, is known as the below:

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Roll it, pat it, and mark it with a B
Put it in the oven for Baby and me.

Though you can switch “pat-a-cake” for “patty-cake.”

The Game

Because the nursery rhyme is so catchy and involves things (cakes) being patted, the song is conducive to a clapping game.

Those reciting the rhyme can pair off and clap, rotating between clapping your own hands and clapping one with a person across from you, right to right and left to left.

The game got to be so famous that it was taken up by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in a series of movies.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to get your bread back from the baker. It could be your means of sustenance or how you make a living. You don’t want to lose yours because your buns are unrecognizable from the others. Plus if yours are the best, you need a brand for consumers to recognize in shop windows.

So, a rhyme was concocted to keep bakers reminded. Make them fast, put your mark on them, and fire them up for eating and for sale. It’s the best advice. (Even Kodak Black knows it.)

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