Friday, August 03, 2007

Mad Molly Metcalfe

yan tan tether mether pip
azer sezer akker conter dick

yanadick tanadick tetheradick metheradick bumfit

yanabum tanabum tetherabum metherabum jiggit


The above is real, and probably still in use in the rural north of England. Ponder it, and see if you can hazard a guess at what it is all about. A clue: Jake Thackray used it in one of his songs, about a shepherdess called Molly Metcalfe.
I find it awesome and humbling, both. I promise I will give you the solution in a later post.

4 comments:

Chas S. Clifton said...

Counting sheep?

Old Scrote said...

Right, Charles. They are the numbers from one to twenty, used by shepherds in parts of northern England when counting sheep. The shepherd keeps pebbles in his pocket, and transfers a pebble from one pocket to the other for each twenty counted. I have no idea where these quaint numbers originated.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I have run across this before in the UK and Ireland, you see.

Someone is always telling how in the Vale of A or the Isle of B or County C they are still counting sheep in (pick one), archaic Cornish, Greek, barracks Latin, Pictish, Manx, Old Norse, or whatever.

Hasn't anyone put all these tales in a booklet yet?

Chas (pr. "chaz")

Old Scrote said...

http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/numbers/words/sheep.htm

The above website contains a theory about the origin of these words: Celtic. Others talk about "ancient British", going back 1800 years or more, which really means Celtic. Take your pick!