Internet shocked over revelation Humpty Dumpty might not be an egg after all

Alice - Through The Looking Glass - stock illustration
Through The Looking Glass And What Alice Found There Illustration by Sir John Tenniel. Photo credit: Getty Images / Twitter

Most, if not all of us, will be familiar with the classic nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty - you know, the one about the uncoordinated egg who falls off the wall. Highly relatable.

But where in the rhyme's four short lines does it actually describe Humpty Dumpty as an egg? And why have we collectively decided over the centuries that he is a personified version of the pantry staple?

Since the nursery rhyme's origin in eighteenth-century England, the character of Humpty Dumpty has been almost unanimously depicted as an egg with human features, despite never being described as such. So when British author Holly Bourne reminded everyone on Twitter that the rhyme never explicitly specified Humpty was an egg, the world was pretty shocked by the revelation. 

"Who decided Humpty Dumpty was an egg?" she asked in a tweet last week.

"It's not in the lyrics and deciding he's a giant egg is quite a random leap for someone to make, and everyone else being like, 'yeah, a giant egg on a wall. Of course'."

She added: "Also, imagine having NO ARMY because they're busy fixing a broken egg. The king sent literally EVERYONE out to save the giant egg who isn't actually an egg, leaving the realm wide open for attack."

The tweet quickly caused a stir, amassing over 468,000 views at the time of writing and hundreds of responses. It appeared many were stunned by the revelation, with several admitting they had never realised the rhyme didn't actually outline Humpty Dumpty's true form. 

"Holly this has blown my MIND," one declared, with a second adding: "Okay ngl [not going to lie] this tweet f**ked me up. This is genuinely the first time I've realised he's not explicitly an egg."

"This has troubled me for ages! Glad you put it out there," another weighed in, with others agreeing: "I have ALWAYS wondered this" and "This has bugged me for a long time!"

Others jumped in to explain the origins of Humpty Dumpty and his eggy exterior, with one writing: "It’s supposedly based on a cannon at Colchester (my place of birth in Essex) during the Civil War." 

"I love this but... when did the cannon become a giant egg?" Bourne pressed. 

"It's believed to be Roundhead propaganda about a Royalist cannon. First appearance as an egg was in Through the Looking Glass," another explained, to which Bourne replied: "I love you for knowing this and sharing this. Thank you. Making a fault canon into a giant leap is QUITE a jump from the original text. It's mad we all just accepted the egg fan-fiction."

"I literally can't think of anything else. This non-cannonical madness we've just blindly accepted," Bourne later added. "The replies to this tweet are fascinating. So many facts and theories!"

"It’s implied the horses attempted to put him back together as well, I can’t imagine them being any help, no wonder they failed. Should have stuck to carrying stuff rather than get involved in repair work," one joked, with a second tweeting: "Also have you ever seen a horse put an egg back together again? Exactly."

As evidenced by the surmising on Twitter, there are a number of theories behind the meaning of Humpty Dumpty and its origins. According to the Colchester tourist board in 1996, the origin of the rhyme can be attributed to a cannon that was used in the siege of 1648 during the English Civil War. The story goes that the large cannon, which the board claimed was colloquially referred to as Humpty Dumpty, fell when the wall it was placed on was damaged by cannonfire. The Royalist defenders then attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty onto another part of the wall, but the cannon was so heavy, "All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again".

The earliest known version of the rhyme has been traced back to an English composer in late eighteenth century England, while Humpty's universally accepted depiction as an egg most likely originates from his appearance in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, the 1871 sequel to Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice remarks that Humpty is "exactly like an egg".