There is a Swedish children’s song about a spider. It goes like this:

Imse vimse spindel klättrar upp för trå’n.
Ned faller regnet, spolar spindeln bort.
Upp stiger solen, torkar bort allt regn,
Imse vimse spindel klättrar upp igen.

It never made sense to me as a song. It doesn’t rhyme, for starters. It seems to describe a rather random sequence of events. Why would the rain wash the spider away from its thread? And what the heck is “imse vimse”, anyway? I wondered for years why anyone who sets out to write a children’s song would come up with such a weak effort.

Then one day I heard it in English. Suddenly it all said click.

The eensy weensy spider crawled up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain,
And the eensy weensy spider climbed up the spout again.

The lyrics rhyme! And they make sense! Instead of climbing up a thread, the spider really crawls up a water spout – and of course when it rains there’s lots of water in a water spout, which would flush the spider out. Instead of the meaningless “imse vimse” the spider is a perfectly sensible “eensy weensy” spider (or “itsy bitsy” if it’s an American spider). And the “Swedish” song is really a bad translation of an English one.

Interestingly, though, even the English version seems to be degrading and slowly slipping towards meaninglessness. I’ve heard the first words being pronounced more like “incy wincy”, and indeed Google finds 49,800 hits for “incy wincy spider” but only 47,600 hits for “eensy weensy spider”. (The American version “itsy bitsy spider” gets 465,000 hits.)