What is the meaning behind Incy Wincy Spider, and what are the origins and lyrics of the song?

26 August 2021, 10:55

What is the meaning behind Incy Wincy Spider, and what are the origins and lyrics of the song?
What is the meaning behind Incy Wincy Spider, and what are the origins and lyrics of the song? Picture: Alamy / YouTube / RockstarLittle

By Rosie Pentreath

The full lyrics and history of the popular nursery rhyme telling of the adventures of a famously small spider.

“Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the water spout…” So begins one of the most popular singalong nursery rhymes known today.

‘Incy Wincy Spider’ tells of an eight-legged critter, small in stature, that climbs up a steadfast spout, only to be washed away again by the rain. Before doing it all again, seemingly undeterred by the moist setback.

The enduring song repeats itself as many times as needed, and also features hand actions for grownups and children to learn together and visualise the short fable.

But who wrote the nursery rhyme, and where did the song come from. We cast an investigative web to find out more...

Read more: Who wrote ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and what are the full lyrics?

What are the origins of ‘Incy Wincy Spider’?

‘Incy Wincy Spider’ is a folk song, first seen in various US publications in the 20th century – including with the title ‘Spider Song’ in a 1910 publication of Arthur Walbridge North’s exploration of culture, Camp and Camino in Lower California, and in Mike and Peggy Seeger’s American Folk Songs for Children in 1948.

Who wrote ‘Incy Wincy Spider’?

The original author of the rhyme and melody is unknown.

Different publications use different versions of the lyrics, including ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ in the US, and ‘blooming, bloody’ spider and rain in some early 20th century publications.

The version used in the UK, and Australia, is ‘Incy Wincy’.

The rhyme is set to a lilting, cheerful melody which follows the ups and downs of the spider in the rhyme. It’s sung in different languages all over the world.

Read more: What are the origins of ‘Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall’, and what do the lyrics mean?

Incy Wincy Spider lyrics

Incy wincy spider climbed up the waterspout,
Down came the rain and washed the spider out,
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain,
So Incy wincy spider climbed up the spout again.

A metaphor for the constant striving in the face of ups and downs in life, perhaps…

What are the ‘Incy Wincy’ hand movements?

In time with the rhyme:

Alternately touch the thumb of one hand to the index finger of the other (like a climbing spider).

Hold both hands up, wiggle the fingers and lower the hands (to indicate rain).

Sweep the hands from side to side (as the spider is washed away).

Raise both hands and sweep to the sides to form a semicircle (as the sun comes out).

Wiggle fingers upwards (as the intrepid spider heads up that spout again).

What also stands out about this nursery rhyme is the endurance of its use in popular culture.
What also stands out about this nursery rhyme is the endurance of its use in popular culture. Picture: Lorimar Productions

‘Incy Wincy Spider’ use in films and popular culture

What also stands out about this nursery rhyme is the endurance of its use in popular culture.

It’s heard in lots of films, especially where a bit of a creepy or chilling moment is called for (spider phobia runs deep).

One of the terrifying clown It’s victims, Laurie Ann Winterbarger, sings it just before her death (1990 version). And it’s featured in the soundtrack of the Australian psychological thriller-horror, Dead Calm.

Jordan Peele’s 2019 horror film, Us, features the song to drive the plot in a pivotal scene. And it is one of the main musical themes in the 2006 ghosty horror Séance. ‘Incy Wincy’ is also fittingly referred to in the Spider-Man movie franchise.

Many famous people and singers have recorded the song too. Carly Simon, Little Richard and actor Nicole Kidman (for the Dead Calm movie soundtrack) all have records of the song under their belts, and children’s entertainers like Patsy Biscoe in Australia and Raffi in Canada have also recorded it.