Those who hear the rhyme should also know there's reason behind the child's game of skipping rope, according a University of Connecticut English professor.

"I think maybe that if I've found out anything, it's that all around the world, children skip," says Francelia M. Butler, author of "Skipping Around the World: The Ritual Nature of Folk Rhymes" (Library Professional Publications, $18.50 paperback, $29.50 hardcover).The book is a collection of skip rope rhymes and chants that Butler collected from 57 countries during more than 40 years of travels.

Butler, who teachers children's literature, says no matter what the country, when she hands a child a rope, the skipping begins.

Chants are universal in themes - protest, loneliness, love, nonsense and the future, such as the rhyme: "Who will I marry? Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief."

"That `who will I marry' rhyme is in every country," Butler says.

Butler maintains that saying rhymes while skipping is more than childish rambling; it's a ritual.

"There's magic connected with it," she says.

"If a child skips and he stumbles, he doesn't just go on chanting. He stops and begins at the beginning again . . . he feels that in the invisible world of the whirling rope, if he stumbles, he's let bad influences in or evil in. So he has to start the ritual over again."

Butler says one of the most beautiful American rhymes is one she first heard in the 1940s:

"On the hilltop, stands a lady

Who she is, I do not know

All she wears is gold and silver

And she needs a nice young man."

Butler says what struck her about the rhyme was that she heard it in a black community near Falls Church, Va., and it's an example of a black culture preserving a white rhyme.

While there are some general themes, the collection also includes a chapter of rhymes that Butler says "will make your hair stand on end." She was referring to a group of rhymes collected from urban playgrounds.