Sunday, September 29, 2013


The story of little Jack Horner is simple but simultaneously enigmatic. We know he was sitting in the corner. There may be a myriad of reasons to sit in a corner but the three most common are punishment, timidity, and stealth. It seems unlikely that Jack Horner was sent to the corner as punishment simply because he is there with a Christmas pie, and being sent to sit in the corner with an entire pie provides both carrot and stick and thus provides no lesson. Timidity is a valid explanation, after all he is either a child or naturally small and in therefore may well feel intimidated. This is especially true if the context of the rhyme is some sort of large celebration, which we may assume with some confidence given the presence of a Christmas pie. The presence of the pie doesn't in and of itself damage the premise of timidity, but it seems unlikely a small child would be given a whole pie, and equally unlikely that someone with social anxiety issues would take an entire pie, no matter how bountiful the fare. So then the most likely explanation is that of stealth. Jack stole the pie, or at least took more than would be considered polite and has retired to a secluded corner to feast on the spoils of his raid.

Regardless of his motivation for sitting in the corner, and of whether his pastry consumption was sanctioned by the relevant authorities, the actions of Jack Horner once he started eating are inexplicable. Who puts their thumb into a pie? Even if eaten without the aid of cutlery, the typical grip would be to rest some part of the base of the pie on the thumb (and potentially little finger), and to hold the side and top of the crust with the remaining fingers. This can be one or two handed depending on the size of the pie. A particularly barbaric diner might dig into the pie with his hands, but even in this case the obvious action is to scoop with the fingers leaving the thumb idle or, at best, holding already scooped pie contents in place. What possible motivation could a person have for simply plunging a thumb, with either care or recklessness, into a pie. We must assume for Jack's sake that the pie was not particularly hot, for otherwise it would be not only bizarre but also stupid to pursue the course of action he did.

So we are faced with a boy (or small man, it is unclear) sitting in a corner, his thumb knuckle-deep in a Christmas pie. Again we cannot be sure what sort of pie precisely this means. It might be a fruit mince pie, often associated with Christmas, or equally it could be a meat based Christmas pie (such as this one). It would seem more likely to be a fruit pie given he pulled out a plum but the idea of a plum in an English meat pie wouldn't shock me. In either case, it seems quite lucky that his thumb should neatly skewer a plum, and do so in such a way as to survive the thumb being extracted from the general slurry of the filling and through the more rigid crust. His final act, to congratulate himself, seems at first height of the inanity. Why congratulate oneself for an act of idiocy? And why be pleased to have retrieved a plum from a pie which one presumably can eat as much of as appetite dictates? The obvious explanation is that Jack doesn't like plums. He has removed (albeit using a non-traditional method) the ingredient he doesn't like and is now faced with a pristine pie to enjoy. Also possible is that he is congratulating himself belatedly for having stolen the pie in the first place. Using the expression "good boy" would suggest his moral compass is somewhat off balance, but taking satisfaction in one's work is not unusual.

Although little context is provided overall, most of the behaviour of little Jack Horner can be easily explained. All except the thumb. Thumbing a pie is inexplicable.

Next week's word is type.

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