Meaning Behind the Delicious Nursery Rhyme “The Muffin Man”

Do you know “The Muffin Man”? Chances are you know the traditional nursery rhyme. But chances are you don’t know on whom the song is based.

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Let’s find out.

What is a Muffin Man?

There are two likely answers to this question. One is that the muffin man was just that, a baker of sorts, who would make and deliver pastries or English muffins to patrons.

[RELATED: Behind the History and Meaning of the Classic Nursery Rhyme, “Frère Jacques”]

The other answer, though, is a bit more curious. The muffin man could have been a bum, a beggar—as in the term “ragamuffin,” meaning a person (or child) in raggedy clothes.

Let’s see below if the nursery rhyme lyrics give us any clue…

The Nursery Rhyme Lyrics

Generally, the song is sung this way:

Do you know the muffin man,
The Muffin man, the muffin man.
Do you know the muffin man,
Who lives on Drury Lane?

Yes, I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Yes, I know the muffin man,
Who lives on Drury Lane.

First written down in a British work from around 1820, a work that is still preserved in the Bodleian Library, which is the main research library of the University of Oxford, the rhyme is a common one today. It even appeared in the animated movie, Shrek (more on that below).

Baked Goods

There was a time when people didn’t always go to the grocery store for their food or even a town market. For many years, foodstuffs were delivered to homes, anything from baked goods to milk and even ingredients for cooking.

In the mid-1800s in Britain, many homes got food delivered, including muffins, which were dropped off by someone known as, yes, a “muffin man.”

Drury Lane

The actual Drury Lane is a main street in London near Covent Garden.

The rhyme, which is simple in nature, has extended out of Britain to other countries, including the United States and the Netherlands. In some versions, Drury Lane is substituted by Dorset Lane.

In the seafaring Netherlands, the word mussels (the shellfish) is substituted for muffins. And “Scheveningen,” a fishermen’s harbor, is substituted for Drury Lane.

The Game

The rhyme for its simplicity and sing-song nature has spawned something of a chorus game that some enjoy playing.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning and History of the Nursery Rhyme: “Little Bunny Foo Foo”]

In the game, which is described in The Young Lady’s Book from 1888 by Matilda Anne Mackarness, one player begins by singing the first stanza of the rhyme. Then the person next to her sings the second stanza.

The two in unison then sing, “Then two of us know the muffin man, the muffin man!”

Then the second person turns to a third and says, “Three of us know the muffin man.” Three turns to four and continues singing, upping the number of people who “know” the muffin man. All of this until the whole room is singing. And the song and game can conclude with the verse, “All of us know the muffin man, the muffin man!”

Frank Zappa

Legendary rocker Frank Zappa got into the mix. His song, “Muffin Man,” from the 1975 album, Bongo Fury, begins with spoken word and then flows into its chorus. It was inspired by the traditional nursery rhyme.

The song is about a food expert who takes his love for muffins to an obsessive, even semi-religious level.

Zappa would play the song as a finale during live shows.


In the beloved movie Shrek, the rhyme is incorporated in a scene, sung by the Gingerbread Man (aka “Gingy”) character.

In one of the movies, we see the Muffin Man character. He appears in Shrek 2 when Gingy and Shrek ask him to make a giant gingerbread man named Mongo to help defeat the evil King Harold.

In the third film, we find out the Muffin Man is the father of Gingy. Of course, he lives on Drury Lane.

The Muffin Man is also seen in the fourth movie, Shrek Forever After, as a baker at a birthday party.

Final Thoughts

The very concept of “The Muffin Man” is a delightful one. At first glance, someone who delivers fresh, hot baked goods to your home is a magnificent thing. Who doesn’t love a warm English muffin?

Perhaps the nursery rhyme can imply the character is either a baker or a “ragamuffin,” which offers it a subtle dichotomy that rings even more interesting. The rhyme could somehow demarcate just how thin a line there can be between the local hero and local zero.

The rhyme, which is all about whether someone knows or has heard of this other person, shows the value (or lack thereof) and pernicious effects of gossip. Word spreads—even faster than hotcakes.

So, be careful. You could be beloved one day and whispered about the next. They even know where you live.


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