A correspondent writes, apropos of teaching kids songs like “Frere Jacques” and “Alouette”:
The latter (Alouette) is bringing back memories: specifically, I recall vaguely from my childhood in l’Acadie that speakers of Quebecois French would often end a long list with “alouette, alouette” (which is how the verse ends, after a long list of the parts of the bird that the singer plans to pluck), as a humorous way of saying “well, that was a long list, wasn’t it?” In this respect, the phrase “alouette, alouette” could be considered the Quebecois French equivalent of “and a partridge in a pear tree,” which you hear used in English for exactly the same thing, and which has its origins in a similarly structured counting-rhyme.
In our house, the Aramaic phrase “chad gadya, chad gadya” (“one little goat, one little goat”) often serves the same function. It comes from the Passover song of the same name, and it holds the same position in the song as the phrases “alouette, alouette” and “and a partridge in a pear tree,” i.e., that of last term in a long list of counted items; but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone else do this, in English or Hebrew, so I don’t know whether it constitutes a third example. I suppose it would be too much to ask for there to be other counting-rhymes in other languages which have given rise to similar phrases – but maybe you could poll the LH readership to see, assuming you think it’s an interesting question too?
I do, and I welcome all contributions.