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The English nursing rhyme "Jack and Jill" has several verses. The first verse is:

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after

What is Jack's crown?

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The most likely answer, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

  1. : the highest part: such as
    a : the topmost part of the skull or head

Other possible interpretations according to Albert Jack's Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meaning of Nursery Rhymes:

One popular suggestion for its origin is that Louis XVI of France and his queen, the infamous Marie Antoinette are Jack and Jill. But the only real supporting evidence for that is the idea that Jack broke (or lost) his crown and that Jill came tumbling after him, or at least her head did.

He notes that the executions of the royal family took place in 1793 and the poem was first published in 1795, which suggests a potential causal link. In that case, the "crown" would be a literal regal piece of headwear.

He also says that Kilmersdon, a small village in Somerset, England, has claimed to be the origin of the rhyme:

The story told in Kilmersdon is that during 1697 the village was home to a young unmarried couple who did a lot of their courting up on a hall, away from the prying eyes of the local gossips. Consequently Jill became pregnant, but just before the baby was born, Jack was killed by a rock that fell off of the hill and landed on his head. Only days later, Jill also died in childbirth.

So, in that case, the crown would again be the top of the head.

Yet another story lies in King Charles I's attempt to reform taxes on alcohol.

Up until that point, wines and ales could be bought as a pint; a half pint, known as a "Jack"; or a quarter pint, known as "Gill" (pronounced the same way as the "gill" of a fist) — hence Jill. As the measures came tumbling down, Charles had effectively gained his tax increase, as slightly less alcohol could then be bought for the same price.

Beer glass manufacturers, even today, often mark the half-pint mark with a symbol of a crown as a symbol of the decrease. Thus, the "crown" would be that reduced measure, with the "gill" similarly decreasing in pace.

He has two more mentions of origin, one noting that Shakespeare paired the names of Jack and Jill in A Midsummer Night's Dreams, indicating that it might be a general term for a generic man and a woman, and noting the Norse myth of Hjuki and Bil, who stole a pail of water from the Moon god, but neither anecdote relates to the use of "crown".

  • Really nice to see references to wikipedia turn into references to reputable sources. Wikipedia isn't reliable because while sometimes it correctly cites sources, other times it cites sources incorrectly, or doesn't cite sources at all. It's always a good idea to see what wikipedia cites, and to cite what wikipedia cites, rather than wikipedia itself. – user111 Sep 8 '17 at 2:40
  • {nods} More trouble, admittedly. :) I hate trying to transcribe from a book because I'm always certain there's going to be errors. – Sean Duggan Sep 8 '17 at 2:52
  • It's not always a good idea to quote directly from a source. Often, paraphrasing and a reference to the source (footnotes, or parenthetical citations, or just a simple statement about where your getting your information from at the beginning of the answer) is sufficient. Quotes are really only necessary when the exact language of the quote is important. That's not really the case here. – user111 Sep 8 '17 at 2:55
  • {nods} I'm always a bit more comfortable quoting. Too many years of professors beating it into our heads that paraphrasing without sufficient indication was plagiarism. In this case, I feel like I hit a decent balance. – Sean Duggan Sep 8 '17 at 3:06
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It means his head.

See definition 2.1 of "crown" at Oxford Dictionaries:

The top part of a person's head or a hat:
‘his hair was swept straight back over his crown’

This is confirmed when you look at later verses of the same poem which have been included in some editions:

  • Up Jack got, and home did trot
    As fast as he could caper;
    To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob
    With vinegar and brown paper.

    -- P. Opie and I. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (emphasis mine)

  • Up Jack got and home did trot,
    As fast as he could caper;
    And went to bed and bound his head
    With vinegar and brown paper.

    -- L. E. Walter, Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes (emphasis mine)

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In addition to "crown=head" as noted, in Chris Roberts's excellent book Heavy Words Lightly Thrown, he posits:

One saucy explanation of this rhyme is that "up the hill to fetch a pail of water" is actually a euphemism for having sex, and that "losing your crown" means "losing your virginity" (in much the same way that people might "go to see a man about a dog" or get up to a bit of "how's your father" if they want to be vague about what they're doing). So here you have a rhyme about a young couple slipping off for a bit of "slap and tickle" and the regrets that come later.

  • There is no such indication of sex-related isue. It is rather a funny situation described here. It's hard to comprehend where the said issue is! – Arghya mozumder May 30 at 9:07

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