If you grew up during the 90’s, or if you were just around for it, you might remember a catchy tune sung by Yakko Warner of the Animaniacs. That song recounted all the nations of the world in one fast-paced list.
If you have never heard it before, take a listen right now.
It is a great tune; I’m sure it helped many a child learn geography. It has, however, serious and fundamental errors.
There is, in fact, a lot wrong with the song in terms of what it lists and what it omits. Let’s go line by line through the lyrics and find everything the song gets wrong. Then, I’ll go through the extensive list of places totally missing from that 90s-era, two-minute rundown of the nations of the world.
United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama
Haiti, Jamaica, Peru,
Republic Dominican, Cuba, Carribean
Greenland, El Salvador too.
Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela
Honduras, Guyana, and still,
Guatemala, Bolivia, then Argentina
And Ecuador, Chile, Brazil.
Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, Bermuda
Bahamas, Tobago, San Juan,
Paraguay, Uruguay, Suriname
And French Guyana, Barbados, and Guam.
Carribbean – It is pretty obvious that this isn’t a country. The only thing I can think is that they were trying to cover all the small countries in the region by just saying “Carribbean”. If they wanted to do that, they could have really shortened the song by just saying “Earth”.
Greenland – This isn’t really an independent country, per se. It is a territory of Denmark with a large amount of autonomy. I’ve met several Greenlanders who consider it a country, but no other country recognizes them, nor have they declared independence.
Puerto Rico – A territory of the United States.
Bermuda – An island in the Atlantic Ocean; it is a territory of the United Kingdom.
Tobago – Tobago is part of the country of Trinidad and Tobago. Not only is it not a country in itself, it’s the smaller of the two islands make up the country, representing up only 5% of the population.
San Juan – There are three things wrong with this: 1) it is a city, 2) it is a city of a territory, not a country, and 3) even if they wanted to use it to represent Puerto Rico, they already mentioned it, so it would be redundant.
French Guyana – Not only is it not a country, it isn’t even technically a territory. French Guyana is an integral part of France in the same way that Hawaii is part of the United States.
Guam – See Puerto Rico.
Norway, and Sweden, and Iceland, and Finland
And Germany now one piece,
Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia
Italy, Turkey, and Greece.
Poland, Romania, Scotland, Albania
Ireland, Russia, Oman,
Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia
Hungary, Cyprus, Iraq, and Iran.
There’s Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan
Both Yemens, Kuwait, and Bahrain,
The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Portugal
France, England, Denmark, and Spain.
Germany – Germany is obviously a country. This issue here is one of timing. Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990. That gives an early boundary for when the song was composed.
Czechoslovakia – The country no longer exists and was dissolved on December 31, 1992. It didn’t exist when the song first aired, but it may have been around when it was written.
Scotland – Not a country. Even though they do have a separate rugby and soccer teams, they are a constituent part of the United Kingdom.
Russia – Like Germany, Russia is obviously a country. The fact that they used “Russia” instead of “Soviet Union” means that the song was written after the dissolution of the USSR, which happened on December 26, 1991. The question then becomes, why aren’t the rest of the former Soviet Republics listed? (See below)
Both Yemens – Yemen was previously split between North Yemen and South Yemen. They were unified on May 22, 1990. Considering Yemeni unification happened BEFORE German reunification, it is odd that they would have listed two Yemens, but one Germany.
England – See Scotland. While the word “countries” are used to describe England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they are not countries in the normal use of the word.
India, Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan
Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan,
Kampuchea, Malaysia, then Bangladesh (Asia)
And China, Korea, Japan.
Mongolia, Laos, and Tibet, Indonesia
The Philippine Islands, Taiwan,
Sri Lanka, New Guinea, Sumatra, New Zealand
Then Borneo, and Vietnam.
Tunisia, Morocco, Uganda, Angola
Zimbabwe, Djibouti, Botswana,
Mozambique, Zambia, Swaziland, Gambia
Guinea, Algeria, Ghana.
Kampuchea – This one is really odd. Kampuchea was the name the Khmer Rouge used for Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The name was never commonly used; I’m not sure why they would want to use something that identifies with the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge were bad.
Korea – There are currently two countries on the Korean Peninsula: North Korea and South Korea. Maybe someday there will just be one Korea, but that hasn’t been the case for over 50 years.
Tibet – Not a country. It is a region of China. There is a movement of people who would like to see Tibetan independence, but it has neither de facto or de jure independence.
Taiwan – This one is more tricky. Taiwan claims to be the one true China and successor country from the before the Chinese communist revolution. They used to represent China in the UN, but that changed in the 70’s when the People’s Republic of China was given the seat. 1,000,000,000 people will do that. Taiwan has de facto independence, in that they have their own government, army, and currency. However, only 22 countries have formally recognized them.
New Guinea – It’s a country, but it’s called Papua New Guinea.
Sumatra – Not a country. It is an island and part of Indonesia.
Borneo – It is an island, not a country. Moreover, the island has three different countries on it: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Burundi, Lesotho, and Malawi, Togo
The Spanish Sahara is gone,
Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Liberia
Egypt, Benin, and Gabon.
Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, and Mali
Sierra Leone, and Algiers,
Dahomey, Namibia, Senegal, Libya
Cameroon, Congo, Zaire.
Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar
Rwanda, Mahore, and Cayman,
Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Yugoslavia…
Malta, and Palestine,
Fiji, Australia, Sudan
Spanish Sahara – The Spanish Sahara was a large hunk of land below Morocco along the Atlantic coast of Africa. The Spanish pulled out of this area in 1975. The region declared independence as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, but Morocco moved in and claimed it. No country recognizes Morocco’s claim, however. For all practical purposes, Morocco controls most of it. Regardless if you think it is Moroccan territory or independent, it is not the Spanish Sahara, and it is odd that they would use a former colonial name, 18 years after the territory was dissolved.
Algiers – Not a country. It is the capital city of Algeria.
Dahomey – 1) This is the former name for Benin and it ceased being used in 1975, 2) Benin is mentioned previously, so it would be redundant.
Zaire – Now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, the name was changed in 1997, after the song was released.
Mahore – Another name for the French island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean. Not a country. There is a movement to make the island part of Comoros, but even in that case, it wouldn’t be a country.
Cayman – The Cayman Islands are a British Territory in the Caribbean.
Hong Kong – When the song was released, Hong Kong was a territory of the United Kingdom. In 1997, control of the territory was handed over to China and it is considered a Special Administrative Unit. It has more autonomy than the rest of China, with their own currency and immigration laws, but it isn’t a separate country.
Abu Dhabi – The largest of the seven emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates. All the emirates are rather independent, but naming the UAE would have made more sense. If you are going to specify Abu Dhabi, then it would have made sense to name the other six emirates as well.
Yugoslavia – Yugoslavia existed at the time the song was released, but it was broken up into several countries and officially ceased to exist in 2006.
Crete – Not a country. It is a Greek island.
Transylvania – Not a country. It is a region of Romania. I can only assume they put it in because it rhymed with “Mauritania.”
Palestine – Similar to the status of Taiwan. Currently, 134 countries recognize Palestine, but Palestine is not a member of the UN. They do have permanent observer status in the UN, however, along with the Vatican.
In addition to all the errors of commission listed above, there are also many errors of omission as well. Here are the countries they didn’t list:
- Several African Countries – South Africa, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Cape Verde, Sao Tome & Principe.
- United Kingdom – Again, an obvious omission. Even if you accept that the constituent countries of the UK should be listed separately, they forget Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Asian Countries – Brunei, Singapore.
- All the former Soviet Republics – Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan.
- European Microstates – Andorra, San Marino, and Vatican City were all left off. They bothered to mention Monaco and Liechtenstein, so they can’t really claim it was because they were small.
- Form Yugoslavian Republics – Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Not relevant when the song was written, but it is relevant now.
- Pacific Countries – They missed almost all of them. Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia.
- Indian Ocean Countries – Maldives, Comoros, Seychelles, and Mauritius.
- New Countries – Since the song came out East Timor, Eritrea and South Sudan became countries.
- Caribbean Countries – St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- Renamed Countries – Countries sort of mentioned, but mentioned incorrectly. Democratic Republic of Congo, South Korea, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Yemen.
Rob Paulsen is the man who is behind the voice of Yakko Warner and sang the original song (he also does the voice of Pinky and a ton of other great cartoon characters). In fact, he is known to sing the song in character at comic conventions. Here’s a video of him singing it the Granite State Comic Con in 2013.
I’m not the first person who has recognized all the errors in the song. There have been several attempts to create an updated version which fixes the errors and adds all of the countries which were left out. Here is the best version which I’ve seen so far.
What I’d really love to see is Rob Paulsen record an updated version of the song for the 21st Century. The early 90’s were a horrible time for map making, and for recording songs about geography. Things have settled down a bit, so a proper recording now should be good for a couple of decades. It would probably also go viral and help a new generation learn about geography.