Baa, baa, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for the master and one for the dane,
and one for the little boy who lives in the lane.
What really happened:
It is true that “sheep talk” once only consisted of monosyllables–baa, baa, were the most common. No matter what you read on old wool bags, sheep are so dumb that they said only baa, no matter what the ancient stories claim.
Nevertheless, based on such stories, economic minded wool buyer and sellers constructed this little ditty of a poem long ago to justify their wooly minded ways.
We can compare their wily ways to the early “blackbirders” in the Pacific who raided the islands and carted off the men as slaves to plantations. The men worked for little or nothing and the masters spoke to them in a kind of Pidgin language because they thought the men were like dumb sheep. However, in the process the slaves picked up some of the language of the masters and developed their own language, one that the masters found difficult to understand.
It is a similar chain of events that led the sheep to be able to respond to the the wool merchants, unscrupulous as they were, in this poem. The sheep also decided to get back at them–of course they had wool. Couldn’t the merchants see it on their backs?
So the sheep decided to rebel against the merchants who were now demanding three bags of wool each month or they would become mutton.
First, the sheep decided to say “yes sir”, a sure way to make the merchants feel important. But then one of them said “no sir, I’ve got foot rot and can only grow a half a bag this month.”
Well, you can imagine how mad the merchants got. They had a master over them and they had heard the sheep say plainly that there was a bag for him. The sheep, however, had filled the bag with weeds and when it went to the master his allergies caused him to sneeze and sneeze until he finally died of consumption.
The second bag the sheep had was for the dane–a Great Dane–and the bag was full of old chicken bones. Sadly, the dog choked on them and died of asphyxiation.
That left only the little boy who lived in the lane and the sheep felt sorry for him. He was living in a lane with fences on both sides and a gate at his back instead of in a house. He didn’t need wool, he needed a bed and a blanket. So they all contributed to a wool blanket for him and kept him in the wool shed. The merchant never found him.
The moral of the story is that you should never say “yes sir” to a stranger because he may be trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It is better just to say “baa” or even “baa, baa”.