A molicepan saw a biddelum
sitting on a cerbcone
chewing gubber rum.
Said the molicepan,
"Tixie on your nintype",
said the biddelum.
The Policeman and the Little Bum
A Policeman saw a little Bum
sitting on a curbstone
chewing rubber gum.
Said the Policeman,
"Give me some".
"Nixie on your tintype",
said the little Bum.
My Mom was born in 1916, and grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin – now suburban Milwaukee. Her mother's mother taught her this poem. The phrase "Nixie on your tintype" was considered very sassy and rude.
I have always thought it amusing, wondered where it came from, and if anyone else has ever heard it.
Kristin Anderson, Apalachicola, Florida. 850-653-2249
Welcome to the forum Kristin.
Never heard that poem, and I also grew up in Wisconsin (Two Rivers). But I can make a guess at Nixie on your tintype …
Nixie is probably a variant of nix, the etymology of which comes from the German nichts (meaning "nothing" or "none" or "no"). For example: "nix his request" would mean to ignore or deny the request. At least that's how I've heard it used.
The word tintype is a bit more puzzling. Technically, a tintype is the print from a now-obsolete photographic process. Doesn't exclude the possibility that it used to mean something else … that poem might predate photography. My first guess was that "tintype" refers to the policeman's badge. In that case, "Nixie on your tintype" would imply a rejection of the policeman's authority, and a denial of his request to "Give me some."
I tried using Google Ngrams to find the historical use of the phrase "Nixie on your tintype" and came up with nothing. So perhaps it was a highly localized phrase, maybe even used only in your family.
Why it would be considered "very sassy and rude" is also puzzling. If we stick with the traditional definition of tintype, and assume nixie means what I suspect it does, then "nixie on your tintype" could mean something like "you look ugly" … but that's just a wild guess. Maybe some other forum members can provide more insights.
I found this site where someone gives a possible definition.
(Since it appears I have the power, I edited this post to correct the link. EmmettRedd)
Dick, the link you posted gives an error message.
Heimhenge, in the post office a nixie is a piece of mail that is undeliverable because of a bad or illegible address; or, as a verb, to mark a piece of mail as undeliverable. There are, or at least were, nixie clerks who dealt with such mail. I agree with your assessment about it's relation to nix, and always the sense of negation: Our request was nixed by the bank officer before we even filled out the form. Or: Nix on that idea. It stinks!
Kristin, it seems that no one really knows how the phrase came about. I suspect that it was meant to be a humorous variation on not on your life. I've heard not on your tintype on very rare occasions throughout my life, now in my 60s.
Try this link instead of Dick's.