Word Breakup: Poppy Shame and Eve teasing

I have been toying with the idea of doing a blog on the phrase ‘Shame, shame Poppy shame’ something that is used quite freely around me, though no one knows where and how it originated. I heard it recently spoken by my mother, who rarely uses English words when in family, use this phrase for my 2-year-old nephew when he was happily running around in the buff. The term is usually used for 2-5 year olds and sung in a nursery rhyme format.

The complete rhyme is: Shame Shame Poppy (or Puppy) shame, all the donkey’s know your name.

I have rarely heard the latter, just the first four words. The phrase is a part of a list of ‘If you Grew up in India is the 90s’ you use this phrase.

According to  samosapedia it is “a light hearted remonstration for some, usually minor, social transgression or faux pas, a taboo flouted, a line of decency crossed…”

I am not completely sure about this definition. It’s more than light-hearted remonstration for one. The rhyme itself seems to have come from the British rule, but the Indians have associated it more with the idea of nakedness.

The phrase is happily used in Pakistan as well as shown by this blog by an American woman married to a Pakistani guy. She mentions how her in-laws say ‘Shame, shame’ everytime they see her child naked. It’s the same as Indian households.

Author Salman Rushdie uses this phrase in Shame based in Pakistan where he talks about the idea of ‘sharam’ which includes an element of society with the English word shame.  It has been interpreted as showcasing an example of an hangover of the idea of shame in post-colonial discourses.

So I have a feeling that the phrase is not as ‘light-hearted’ but rather associated with our culture’s idea of nakedness as being something shameful and which should be hidden. Of course it comes disguised in a sing-song, smiling sort of a way.

Since I am obsessed with graphs in recent weeks, I searched for the word ‘shame’ in Google Trends  which tracks the ‘average traffic of shame from India in all years’. I was surprised!




What’s so shameful about 2007 and 2011 that Indians used or searched for this word so much?? Makes one’s mind wonder. Check out the whole analysis of the word here which will also give you region wise search, etc.

Hiding deep-rooted hang-ups about sexuality and ‘sharam’ behind sing-song phrases reminds me of yet another phrase for today:


Eve teasing

The word which has become popular to casually talk about the pinching, winking, breast-staring that happens in this country, has its own Wikipedia page. Quoting the rather nicely done definition there:

“Considered a problem related to delinquency in youth,[3] it is a form of sexual aggression that ranges in severity from sexually suggestive remarks, brushing in public places and catcalls to outright groping.[4][5][6] Sometimes it is referred to with a coy suggestion of innocent fun, making it appear innocuous with no resulting liability on the part of the perpetrator.[7] Many feminists and volunteer organizations have suggested that the expression be replaced by a more appropriate term. According to them, considering the semantic roots of the term in Indian English, Eve teasing refers to the temptress nature of Eve, placing responsibility on the woman as a tease.[8][9]

Apparently the word is very strong in Bangladesh as well if Google trends (I am obsessed!) has anything to go by.

“Eve teasing is a euphemism used in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan for public sexual harassment, street harassment or molestation of women by men.” – thedailystar.net


In India-only search, the phrase seems to have gained popularity in middle 2011 when there was a protest against the very idea.


The phrase seems to have its origins in India in the 1960s. I found a very interesting citation of 1960s on the website Double Tongued.

1960 Times (London, England) (Apr. 22) “Protection For Indian Girl Students” (in Delhi, India) p. 9: One aspect of the problem of student indiscipline which is plaguing university authorities in India has been the bullying and harassment of girl students in the few coeducational institutions—a pastime so common that it has been given the name of “Eve-teasing.”…“Eve-teasing” is not, apparently, just the oafish high spirits or ill-will of a handful of male students but is rather a symptom of the strong resentment which many students feel against women in the universities.

1963 Selig S. Harrison Washington Post, Times Herald (D.C.) (Oct. 26) “The Sad State Of India’s Youth” p. A8: Police officials have been discovering that the collegiate enthusiasts who prowl streets in Indian cities are not content to watch the girls go by. Indian newspapers have carried accounts of police roundups in Srinagar, Dehra Dun and other centers for indecent advances at bus stands and traffic intersections.…Happy headline writers have dubbed the new offense “Eve-teasing.”

The quotes above are from international media. I couldn’t find references to the same in 1960s Indian media. It had to be a journalist to coin a catchy, casual phrase. I place my bets on it being a male journalist. The phrase emerges from the authorities/media/patriarchal society talking jokingly about male students jeering at their fellow female students.

Eve and Tease are two words created by a patriarchal society which has been in the habit of leading and objectifying their women. It’s the same society which feels that the woman’s body is impure, full of things they don’t understand and so women are not allowed in temples during periods. Their bodies are objects which when covered should be venerated and when uncovered is a source of shame.

The phrase manages to have a relaxed attitude about things like rape and at the same time squarely puts the blame for teasing/distracting serious, studious university boys on their fellow female students. It also places the blame squarely on women for having the tempting bodies and temperaments (again patriarchal perspective). The problem which Indian women are facing even today with a Karnataka minister blaming women for being raped because they wear tight jeans.

It’s interesting to see how new words take on the same old meanings. Only more insidious.

I would like to close this with a link to one of my favourite blogs, http://blog.blanknoise.org/. Read it, if you are any gender, to understand what the other side, the non-patriarchal, the women, feel about the word.