Hey Diddle Diddle Nursery Rhyme- Lyrics, History, Video, Lesson Plans & More

Hey Diddle is a simple nursery rhyme with roots in 18th century England. The song is sometimes called The Cow Jumped Over the Moon or The Cat and The Fiddle.

Though pretty famous, most people would agree none of the song’s lyrics makes any sense. Why and how did a cow get to the moon? Do cats play fiddles? What of the dish that ran away with the spoon and the laughing dog?

Does it all make sense to you? Let’s see if we can make, sense of that and the song’s origins below.


Hey Diddle comprises only one verse of five lines.

Lyrics for Hey Diddle Diddle as Sung Today

Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon,
The little dog laughed to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the Spoon

Fun Fact: Did you know that the song gave rise to the famous phrase “over the moon” to show delight? Now you do!

Full Original Lyrics for Hey Diddle Diddle

The song has several ancient versions that contributed to the modern version.

These are the first lyrics from a 1765 edition of Mother Goose’s Melody with a direct allusion to today’s version:

Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump’d over the Moon,
The little dog laugh’d to see such craft,
And the Fork ran away with the Spoon

Other versions replace the word sport with fun, craft, or sight. The word sight is common in Australian versions.

On the other hand, fun and sport are common in versions from the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively.

Before the above variant, there were two poems with a few lines available in the modern versions. The first is from a Thomas Preston play published in 1569.

They be at hand Sir with stick and fiddle;
They can play a new dance called hey-diddle-diddle.

Another reference to the song is from Alexander Montgomerie’s poem, The Cherry and the Slae, printed in 1597.

But since you think’t an easy thing
To mount above the moon,
Of your own fiddle take a spring
And dance when you have done


girl reading book with title The History of Nursery Rhymes by Mother Goose

Who Wrote Hey Diddle Diddle Nursery Rhyme?

The writer of Hey Diddle Diddle has disappeared in the mists of time. Like most nursery rhymes, no one knows how the song came about or who even came up with them.

What is known is the source of the melody we commonly sing the song with. The melody’s composer is James William Elliott, an English nursery rhyme collector.

However, he didn’t compose the melody knowing it would be a massive hit with Hey Diddle Diddle. As a nursery rhyme collector, he recorded the tune in his 1870 book National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs.

Hey Diddle Diddle, however, dates back hundreds of years. Therefore, it’s possible people were singing the song with a different tune.

What Are the Origins of Hey Diddle Diddle?

Though we know little of its origins, there are several references to the song going back as far as the 16th century.

It is unclear whether that would have formed the origin of the song. That could also mean the song had been around earlier, and Preston was only drawing some reference to it.

Thomas Preston had a 1569 play with references to the song. The play is A lamentable tragedy mixed full of pleasant mirth, and containing the life of the King of Persia. It references a fiddle and type of dance called Hey Diddle Diddle.

The Cat and the Fiddle, also the song’s title, is a famous inn name back in the days. However, there’s little to show the inn’s name could have influenced the song’s origin.

Alexander Montgomery also references the song in his 1597 poem, The Cherry and the Slae. The song could have existed for a long time before these references happened.

It wasn’t until 1765 that a version closest to what we sing today was published. That version in Mother Goose’s Melody is widely considered the song’s original version.

One of the most outlandish theories to explain the song’s origin is its relations to an Egyptian goddess, Hathor. The theory claims the song relates to the rising water tides in ancient Egypt.

Another one is that the song refers to Lady Catherine Grey and Queen Elizabeth. There’s also a theory that refers to a constellation of stars. In that theory, the little dog is Canis minor and the cow, Taurus the bull.

A theory that makes some sense is that the song was originally a game. The game might have involved a ball which was the cat and was played to whilst listening to music from a fiddle.

This makes sense when put in the context that such games were a standard fixture at pubs where people went to relax in the evening’s hundreds of years ago just as they do today. It could happen that some of those pubs were called The Cat and the Fiddle!

How plausible is that?

It depends on how you choose to see it.

There isn’t any conclusive evidence to tie any of these theories to the song. Therefore, it’s safe to admit that no one knows how Hey Diddle Diddle came to be.


What Does the Nursery Rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle Mean?

There is no real meaning behind the song Hey Diddle Diddle. There are no hidden interpretations, secret conspiracy theories, or dark meanings – just many theories on how the song came to be. It’s simply a song to entertain people, especially children.

What’s to Diddle mean?

According to the Oxford dictionary, Diddling is aimlessly passing time, i.e., wasting time. It also means cheating or con. That doesn’t appear to be what’s in this song, though.

What is a Fiddle?

A fiddle is an informal name for a violin, cello, or other stringed instruments similar to the violin.

What is a Cat and a Fiddle Mean?

We can assume in the nonsense of the ryhme that ‘Cat and a Fiddle’ mean that the cat is playing the instrument or the fiddle.

The Cat and The Fiddle is also a popular pub name in the United Kingdom.

What does The Cow Jumped over the moon Mean?

As this is a nonsensical nursery rhyme, you can take this phrase literally meaning a cow jumps over the moon!

We know that it is impossible, but that is what delights both children and adults and makes the nursery rhyme both fun to sing and act out!

What is a Dish?

The word dish can be used in different ways in the English language for example someone might ask you to bring a dish to share at dinner. This means bringing a meal of your choice to share.

However, the word dish generally refers to the plate a meal is served on and even sometimes a bowl or other crockery (that’s why we call is dish washing!!!). In this nursery rhyme, the dish is generally a small plate that has been given human attributes such as legs so it can run away with the spoon!


Is Hey Diddle Diddle a Nonsense Rhyme?

Yes, Hey Diddle Diddle is a nonsense rhyme. A nonsense rhyme is a rhyme or song whose words or lines make little sense!

For instance, how does a cat play a fiddle? Impossible, right? What of a cow going over the moon? Can never happen!

What of a dog laughing and a dish running away with the spoon? Of all the things that can never happen, this can never happen the most!

Therefore, Hey Diddle Diddle is a nonsense rhyme. It has all the features a nonsense rhyme would have.

Is Hey Diddle Diddle in the Public Domain?

Hey Diddle Diddle is a public domain song. No one has the copyright to the song, and if you want to use the song in your work, you can.

 (Disclaimer: This is a general – not a legally confirmed fact, and you need to do more research into the laws in your jurisdiction/country to ensure you have the right to use this song)

Anything published or copyrighted before 1925 today is considered public domain. Hey Diddle Diddle was first published in 1765, which makes it a public domain song according to that rule.

BUT this does not apply to other people’s versions of it – for example, if you made a CD of you singing Hey Diddle Diddle, your version is not public domain, and I cannot resell it.

Can You Sing Hey Diddle Diddle in Sign Language?

Yes, you can. Check out the below resource to do it.


The following is a selection of Lesson Plans inspired by Hey Diddle Diddle. You need to click on the images to go to the websites to learn more and download the resources.


What Time Signature is Hey Diddle Diddle?

Hey Diddle Diddle is played with a time signature of 4/4.


You can play Hey Diddle Diddle on most instruments. The following are some instructional videos from YouTube that you can follow!


Samantha Bellerose has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Diploma in Performing Arts. She is a mom to four children and is passionate about education and learning. Samantha created Nursery Rhyme Central as the go to place for parents, teachers and carers about all things to do with Nursery Rhymes. She is also the Main Author and creator for websites Dance Parent 101 and Move Dance Learn, where she shares her knowledge and expertise for dance and learning through movement.

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