Don't know much for sure about this story. I've never read it; only heard a review at some point in mid-nineties on Polish TV. The author may very well be Polish, but there's a chance it was a translation (Yup, I'm also asking elsewhere in Polish).

The story is set in the world with telepaths and the protagonist has secret information (or maybe is a secret agent - not sure about this) and keeps repeating a rhyme in his (her?) head which blocks telepathic prodding of their mind. One thing I'm pretty sure I remember is the rhyme in Polish (It's actually been stuck in my head since the 90s) - and in Polish it indeed rhymes (AABB - end of lines) so most likely the translation was not literal. Re-translated back to English it would be something like:

one - two - three and four
sultan liked bayaderes,
five - six - seven - eight
he liked to cock a snook at everyone.

and in Polish:

raz - dwa - trzy i cztery
lubił sułtan bajadery,
pięć - sześć - siedem - osiem
lubił wszystkim grać na nosie

  • The Demolished Man was serialized in the January, February, and March, 1952, issues of Galaxy Science Fiction; links to the Internet Archive. – user14111 Feb 6 '18 at 22:17
  • Not what you're looking for, but this is a common trope. Non-psychic politicians are trained to do it in the Saga of the Exiles as a defence against casual psychic intrusion. – Valorum Feb 6 '18 at 22:24
  • @Valorum How common was it in 1951? Was Bester's story the first instance of that "trope"? – user14111 Feb 6 '18 at 22:34
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    @user14111 - Good question. Probably – Valorum Feb 6 '18 at 22:43
  • Also in Midwich Cuckoos (aliens impregnate all the girls in a town, the kids grow up to be telepathic) by John Wyndham who wrote Day of the Triffids. But he thinks of a brick wall. – demented hedgehog Feb 7 '18 at 5:26

Other than the exact text of the rhyme, it sounds like a perfect match for Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man. The main character wants to commit a crime in a world of telepaths and needs to keep it secret, so he fills his head with a catchy bit of verse -- a mindworm.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Demolished_Man

The mindworm is:

Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
Two, sir; one!

Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.

If this is indeed the right story, I'm guessing that the translators gave up on anything like a literal translation and tried to make something up in Polish which had the same effect.

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    Now that's a tongue-twister. – JAB Feb 6 '18 at 23:44
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    Nothing says "I am completely innocent with nothing to hide" than repeating a nursery rhyme over and over around telepaths – simon_smiley Feb 7 '18 at 0:42
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    @simon_smiley In this story it was an advertising jingle*, deliberately chosen because it was the sort of thing that might get stuck in one's head. (*well, more like the "thinking music" for a game show, but the reasons for that are wordy) – Crashworks Feb 7 '18 at 10:02
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    @Crashworks "Thinking Music" as in Jeopardy theme? – chif-ii Feb 7 '18 at 15:02
  • How odd. I'm convinced I've read a book or story containing this trope, but it certainly wasn't this one. – Bob Tway Feb 7 '18 at 17:02

This is indeed, Alfred Bester's 'The Demolished Man' where the protagonist Ben Reich plans the murder of a business rival. He uses a 'jingle' from an associate songwriter that acts as an earworm to block his murderous intentions from Espers.


From Wikipedia:

Reich contacts D'Courtney and proposes a merger of their concerns but Reich's damaged psychological state causes him to misread D'Courtney's positive response as a refusal. Frustrated and desperate, Reich determines to kill Craye D'Courtney. The presence of peepers has prevented the commission of murder for more than 70 years so Reich devises an elaborate plan to ensure his freedom. If caught Reich will certainly face "Demolition", a terrible punishment described only at the end of the story.
[...] To further conceal his intentions from telepaths, Reich visits a songwriter, Duffy Wygand (spelled "Wyg&" in the text) who teaches him a deceptively simple jingle:
Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
Two, sir; one!
This proves to be an earworm, so persistent and involving that it blocks most Espers from properly peeping into Reich's mind.

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    This doesn't add anything to the existing answer. – F1Krazy Feb 7 '18 at 15:07
  • the pretty picture though... – theonlygusti Feb 7 '18 at 20:56

The "wall used to block thoughts" trope is also used in the Village of the Damned (1960 film). A brood of children, all born on the same day, has been fathered (!) by aliens. The film is adapted from the novel The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_of_the_Damned_(1960_film)

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  • Unless this might be the story that this person is looking for, this should be a comment, not an answer. – Mal Feb 9 '18 at 23:22

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