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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.

February 9, 2010 — 7:20 pm
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