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teezie mithy katra hornie dick bumfit

One of the neat things about our area, all the little towns around have historical societies and art clubs and so on which sponsor lecturers on a regular basis. If you like that sort of thing. And we do.

Tonight, we went out to hear a microbiologist deliver a talk on the origin of nursery rhymes. And very interesting it was, too. They’re all tragedy, gossip and porn. Apparently.

About a third of English nursery rhymes go back a thousand years or more, in one form or other. Some of the very earliest go right back to proto-Indo-European, way pre-historical times. A version of “ladybird, ladybird” was written on the side of an ancient building in India.

“Rain, rain go away” is another one that goes back that far and crops up all across Europe in a variety of languages. The German version, for example, goes “Rain, rain go away. Go rain on Poland.” No shit.

“Eeny meeny miney moe” is another ancient one, part of a genre of counting nursery rhymes. (Yes, America contributed the line about the person of color and his toe, quite recently. It’s universal now. We should be so proud).

I checked it out online when I got back, and stumbled across this delightful page describing the various ways sheep are (or were) counted all around Britain:

Counting to 1 2 3 4 5
Keswick yan tyan tethera methera pimp.
Westmorland yan tyan tetherie peddera gip.
Eskdale yaena taena teddera meddera pimp.
Millom aina peina para pedera pimp.
High Furness yan taen tedderte medderte pimp
Wasdale yan taen tudder anudder nimph
Teesdale yan tean tetherma metherma pip
Swaledale yahn tayhn tether mether mimp(h)
Wensleydale yan tean tither mither pip
Ayrshire yinty tinty tetheri metheri bamf
Counting to 6 7 8 9 0 15
Keswick sethera lethera hovera dovera dick bumfit
Westmorland teezie mithy katra hornie dick bumfit
Eskdale hofa lofa seckera leckera dec bumfit
Millom ithy mithy owera lowera dig bumfit
High Furness haata slaata lowera dowra dick mimph
Teesdale lezar azar catrah horna dick bumfit
Swaledale hith-her lith-her anver danver dic mimphit
Wensleydale teaser leaser catra horna dick bumper
Ayrshire leetera seetera over dover di

Children’s counting games:
[Edinburgh]“Inty, tinty, tethery, methery; Bank for over, dover, ding ..”
[London] “Eena, deena, dus; cattala, wheela, wheila, wus; spit, spot, must be done.
[Cincinnati] een, teen, tother, feather, fib, soter, oter, poter, debber, dick
[Vermont] eeni, teni, tudheri, fedheri, fip, saidher, taidher, koadher, daidher, dik

NB: those are last year’s lambs. We’re about two weeks away from the first of this year’s crop.


Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: February 9, 2010, 7:49 pm

When I was a kid it was catching a tiger’s toe. I didn’t hear of the other version until a few years ago actually.

Isn’t it funny how a lot of our oldest stuff is preserved through the oral traditions of our youngest?

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: February 9, 2010, 8:02 pm

Enas, Unfortunately, that one will get you sued by the NAACP if they think there could be a decent payoff. Just ask Southwest Airlines….

Stoatie, I know it’s off-Topic, but this one is DEFINATELY for you. http://images.cheezburger.com/completestore/2010/2/9/129102332763885858.jpg

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 9, 2010, 8:21 pm

Whereas “hornie dick bumfit” would probably win you an NEA grant.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: February 9, 2010, 8:29 pm

William & Ceil Baring Gould’s The Annotated Mother Goose came out when I was in high school and I spent HOURS poring over it–some really cool stuff.

Oh, and if you think Mother Goose is full of naughty bits(well, yeah, it is) go read The Brothers Grimm sometime! Hair-curling. . .

It’s really sad the way we dilute folk material and then treat it as if it were fit for nothing but children. There are some terrific fictionists out there, though, making good use of traditional stuff. Ever read Michael Gruber’s The Witch’s Boy or Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales? Great stuff. . .or Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crimes books. . .

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: February 9, 2010, 8:32 pm

Stoatie, just dust off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure! 😉


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 9, 2010, 8:42 pm

I had that book, Can’t Hark.

Also, he went in to the fact nursery rhymes are called Mother Goose in the US. Well, he didn’t know why we called them that in the US (they don’t in the UK), but Mother Goose was a hugely popular pantomime in the early 19th Century in the UK.

Pantomime. Ummm…another post for another day.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: February 9, 2010, 8:51 pm

I just went and counted and (including the Baring-Gould) I have 7 editions of Mother Goose on my shelf–and they all have different stuff. OK, they probably all have some overlapping stuff, but there’s odd nuggets in each of them. I think they were my first experience of getting intoxicated by words. . .

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: February 9, 2010, 9:06 pm

By the way, speaking of Yann Tann. . .I don’t suppose you were a reader of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles?

Comment from Lemur King
Time: February 9, 2010, 9:08 pm

I was taught eenie meenie minie moe one way by my grandfather and another way by my mother. Talk about a confused kid with conflicting lessons.

The real lesson? Compartmentalization.

Yeah, Weas, I’m kind of amazed at how many children’s rhymes deal with really nasty dark stuff – just like the fairy tales of old. Get right down to it when we complain about what our kids see now… most of that isn’t as grim as what kids were taught then.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: February 9, 2010, 9:26 pm

LemurKing–the thing is, although those rhymes were repeated by kids, and the stories were told by kids, they weren’t made up just for kids; many of the rhymes probably weren’t even things told directly to kids, more a matter of kids overhearing and appropriating mysterious grownup stuff.

And, sure, a lot of the stories were grim, but then, a lot of the time it all turned out OK in the end. . .and taught you important lessons like “don’t stray from the path or waste time picking flowers” and “don’t covet the herbs in your neighbor’s garden” and “don’t use social invitations to settle scores” and “don’t wish for what you don’t have” and “be REALLY nice to any little old man or woman who asks you to share your food. . .but be careful about who you thank, and never tell your name.”

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: February 9, 2010, 9:33 pm

You’re right, LK.

The evening kicked-off with the inevitable ‘ring-a-ring-a-roses’ being about the red rings from flea bites that precipitated a nice, bracing, dose of bubonic plague, while the ‘a-tishoo-a-tishoo – we all fall down’ referred to where it had mutated into the altogether even more wunnerful pneumonic variety.

Apparently, there was a 30 per cent death rate for the former, but ol’ pneumonic managed to bag the full 100 per cent.

Rather puts ‘swine flue’ in its place, dunnit?

In passing, it occurred to me that the last time Team Mustelid had graced this august seat of adult learning, the subject was the history of the plague.

Sometimes I wonder about weasels, truly I do.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: February 9, 2010, 9:36 pm

Interesting point, Can’t Hark – the lecturer said more or less that. Heaven alone knows why they are called ‘nursery rhymes’. Most of them were street rhymes and pretty adult ones, at that!

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: February 9, 2010, 10:08 pm

Uncle Badger–Hm. The Baring-Goulds, if I remember correctly (OK, I checked. Sue me!) didn’t put a lot of trust in the ring-of-roses/plague connection. On the other hand, that was 32 years ago, and I’ll concede I haven’t been paying close attention to the scholarship in that area, so it could have gained evidentiary support and scholarly credence. Certainly, the explanation resonates for me, regardless of its truth.

As far as the “street rhymes and pretty adult ones, at that” thing goes. . .there’s a passage in Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist (and I’m NOT going to go look this one up–the book is upstairs. . .) about the street songs one hears in childhood remaining in consciousness as innocent, regardless of their content. I remember when I was 10, someone my age wandering up and down our side street singing the Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini song. . .Part of the first 12 years or so of life, when you are absorbing information through your pores in the hopes of deciphering adulthood, is embracing adult material for whatever it represents to you at the time. I mean–the I-B/T-W/YPDB song was fun to sing, even though I had no real conception of what it meant. How we learn about the world. Truly. . .

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: February 9, 2010, 10:15 pm

Oh, yeah (and forgive me for egoizing. . .).

Love the fact that the lecturer was a microbiologist. 🙂

Comment from steve
Time: February 10, 2010, 10:07 am

…..slithery, leathery, armpit, pimple…..

Quiet down…I’m counting over here…

Darn it…now I lost my place and have to start over….

waddle, dwaddle, birdbath, pie, sheepdip, peach pit, kosher dill, spider, loogie…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 10, 2010, 10:45 am

Oh god! Ohgodohgodohgod.

I’ll probably spend the rest of my life counting “…slithery, leathery, armpit, pimple…”


Comment from steve
Time: February 10, 2010, 12:14 pm

Well…it’s good enough for you…

What the hell did you expect, posting stuff like this…

“And in Lower Inishbofin, they count like this: cowlick, bumfuk, carbuncle, opera, catahrr, rutabaga, toejam, slapchop, shamwow….”

And how do you think I feel? I will be spending the rest of my (completely unproductive, going forward) day trying to devise a mathematical system based on this….

(BTW…by the time I get to “googleplex” it is going to probably be a way grosser word than that….I am almost certain…)

Comment from Matt P
Time: February 10, 2010, 12:38 pm

Off topic but congrats to Uncle B and his brethren for hard to kill.

BBC: Badger culls ‘not cost-effective’


“There has been some controversy over badger culling as a bovine TB control method and it has been unpopular with the general public.”

Comment from Nicole
Time: February 10, 2010, 2:55 pm

I thought I was gonna be stuck on “Inty, tinty, tethery, methery” but “slithery, leathery, armpit, pimple” wins hands down.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: February 10, 2010, 4:40 pm

On a sad note, Captain Phil Harris of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” died today from complications of a stroke. He was the chain-smoking master of the Cornelia Marie that was featured in every season of the show.


Comment from Pupster
Time: February 10, 2010, 5:26 pm

From Matt P’s link:

“There has been some controversy over badger culling as a bovine TB control method and it has been unpopular with the general public.”

That’s because they were not using a spectacular enough culling mechanism. The general public would radically reverse their opinion if flame-throwers and grenade- launchers were involved.

Comment from Allen
Time: February 10, 2010, 5:43 pm

These do have a certain amount of brain stickage to them. I like the Ayrshire one.

Yinty, Tinty, Tetheri, Metheri, Bamf.

Brings to mind a visual, you’re counting your lambs and also prepping for dinner. A nice bit of lamb with mint jelly. So out to the pasture you go… There’s Yinty and Tinty. Oooo, over there is Tetheri and Metheri. Then, Bamf! As you brain the last little lamb with your cricket bat.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: February 10, 2010, 6:40 pm

I guess I didn’t get here in time for the plate of LSD being passed around…

Comment from Janna
Time: February 10, 2010, 6:57 pm

Thanks a lot Mike…
I just blew iced tea out my nose.

I LOVE this place.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: February 10, 2010, 8:57 pm

Thanks, Matt P.

If you knew the lobbying we had to buy to get that.

Truth is, we’re cheerfully nasty bastiches (like all mustelids) and damned proud of it.

Had to make nice for the public, though.

“Smile, Uncle B! You’re on Kiddiewinks TV now!”

Imagine the pain….

Comment from Matt P
Time: February 11, 2010, 1:29 pm

“cheerfully nasty bastiches”

Translate that into Latin and you’ve got yourself a hell of a family motto.

Comment from Deborah
Time: February 12, 2010, 2:00 pm

Teezie Peddera Gip would make a great book title for a mystery!

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