14

If you're not familiar with the nursery rhyme: after Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, you get the two lines

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again

But what do the horses have to do with anything? Talking about the king's healers/medics would make sense, but why mention the horses whatsoever?

Normally, I'd dismiss it as some throwaway nursery line that doesn't mean anything, but in Zack Snyder's cut of the Justice League, Part 5 is named "All the King's horses", leading me to believe that there is some actual meaning there.

If I had to guess: the point is the irrelevance. The King can afford a zillion things, such as horses, but those can't save his people. Is that about right?

5
  • 1
    I believe the meaning of the rhyme is unknown. If it refers to a historical event, perhaps the king's "horses and men" are his cavalry and infantry, rather than medics.
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 7:28
  • 3
    Wouldn't it simply represent the largest, strongest (military) force imaginable? (And hence the impossibility of reconstituting the character, if not even they could do it.)
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 10:40
  • Warning: NSFW - Ricker Gervais on precisely this subject; youtube.com/watch?v=UwAookPFWZQ
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 17:15
  • See literature.stackexchange.com/questions/1489/… Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 10:14
  • Funny enough, there was a gag about just this in The Rookie episode i saw last night, where a doctor was like "and why horses? I never understood why it was relevant that horses couldn't fix him. Why not just take him to a doctor instead of horses?"
    – Blindy
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 17:50

5 Answers 5

22

The phrase "The King's Horse" is still in use today and is well understood.

It refers to the mounted royal bodyguard, the Guards Regiments. There are a number of Guards Regiments, hence the plural, Kings Horses.

Anyone watching the recent Coronation on TV will have heard the expression in the commentary.

2
  • 13
    Somewhat obvious but pointing it out anyway: the "men" in the song are therefore infantry, footsoldiers, rendering "all the king's horses and all the king's men" to mean "all of the king's army".
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 3:26
  • There is also Lewis Carroll's version of Humpty Dumpty.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 7 at 13:51
5

The modern version of the rhyme is not original

The earliest known version was published in Samuel Arnold's Juvenile Amusements in 1797 with the lyrics:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

Four-score Men and Four-score more,

Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.

The contemporary version was widespread in the UK in the mid-Twentieth century and retrofitted the then-popular phrase "all the King's horses", which is a reference to the full power of the Crown (or the nation). It appears that to make it fit, the second line about the King's men" was created, and it was the popularity of Humpty Dumpty that popularised the phrase "all the King's men" meaning exactly what "all the King's horses" meant.

Both phrases (All the King's horses, All the King's men) now have a life of their own in pop-culture.

2

One interpretation of the nursery rhyme is that Humpty Dumpty was a cannon, rather than an egg (which the first reference for the egg imagery was apparently in Lewis Carol's Through the Looking Glass).

The cannon was positioned on the battlements of Colchester under the control of the Royalists (supporting the King) during the English civil war in 1648 and when the battlements under the cannon collapsed and the cannon fell from the battlements then "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again" as it could not be raised back to the battlements.

5
  • 2
    Wikipedia claims that Humpty Dumpty was an Egg before Carroll: “William Carey Richards (1818–1892) quoted the poem in 1843, commenting, "when we were five years old ... the following parallel lines... were propounded as a riddle ... Humpty-dumpty, reader, is the Dutch or something else for an egg". Through the Looking Glass was published in 1871. “Humpty Dumpty” meant a short squat person centuries before Carroll, and I think it's possible that the rhyme was originally a riddle, implicitly asking “what is being described”, and the well-known answer was “an egg”. Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 18:15
  • 2
    Apparently, not a cannon! This article explains how the cannon story got its start as a spoof in a 1956 episode of Oxford Magazine.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 22:21
  • EXcept ... the use of "all the King's horses ..." only dates from the mid-20th century - pop culture usually doesn't reference events from 400 years ago.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 2:13
  • Although this story is widespread on the internet, the interpretation of Humpty Dumpty being an egg goes back almost to the start of the rhyme. See this answer on Lit.SE.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented May 6 at 17:39
  • @PeterShor I link to that question in my answer; the other answer on that question dates the nursery rhyme a century before the answer you reference and talks about "Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.". I'm not going to discuss which interpretation is correct - I am merely stating that one interpretation is Humpty Dumpty referred to a cannon; there are other interpretations where Humpty Dumpty refers to King Richard III (as someone of a "humpty-dumpty" stature as he had a hunchback) or as an Egg (popularised by Lewis Carol in 1871 but predating that).
    – MT0
    Commented May 6 at 18:01
-2

Humpty Dumpty represents the king's political power over the people. When their power over the people had a great fall and was a broken system all the king's guards couldn't put the corrupt system back together again.

0
-4

I don't know what you mean, it's very clear to me. In the days before trucks and cranes people used horses to haul heavy and awkward loads. Horses were used during construction projects too to lift and put things together. In the rhyme, Humpy Dumpty is broken so badly that he became a construction project himself. EDIT: Thank you very much for your feedback. I hope this image clears it up for everyone. enter image description here

4
  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 10:16
  • 1
    How does a horse put things together? Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 12:49
  • 4
    Sorry bud, but this just isn't what it means Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 7:54
  • @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas, ropes and pulleys I would guess.
    – vlsh
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 12:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.