Similar with other nursery rhymes, like Ladybird, Ladybird, “One for Sorrow” has its origins in a superstition.

Originally, the lyrics were associated with magpies which were bringing good or bad luck. It is said that depending on how many little magpies one sees a day, a blessed or an unhappy event will happen to him or her.

“One for Sorrow” is a counting song, therefore for each number of magpies seen on a day there is a prediction. Today it might also refer to some other similar birds, especially in some countries or regions where magpies cannot be easily spotted.

The lyrics of “One for Sorrow” have been changed over the times. The oldest known version of the song dates back to the late 18th century, and was found in a note by John Brand in Observations on Popular Antiquities, Lincolnshire, 1780. Later on, in the early 19th century it appears in a “Proverbs and Popular saying” book, collected from oral tradition and published by M. A. Denham, in 1846, London.

“One for Sorrow” Lyrics

Modern version

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told,
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird
You must not miss.

“One for Sorrow” Original lyrics

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death

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