Alix Campbell

Mar 08

Tetheradick, Metheradick, Bumfit

FT4 comments • 723 views

This is something I wanted to talk about on last night’s Lollards but didn’t get around to, to do with lost languages of the UK. ‘Yan Tan Tethera’ were counting rhymes used by shepherds in the North West of England, and South Scotland. They faded away around the start of the 20th century, but traces of them remain. I know very little about them, aside from the fact that they possibly descend from an extinct tongue in the Brythonic Celtic language family called Cumbric – which could be a separate language, or could be a dialect of Welsh that escaped from Wales. Either way Cumbric died a death many centuries ago, leaving very little behind. Yan Tan Tethera however, do survive, in written form at least. Each one is a system for counting to 20, often using rhyming pairs. There’s a lot of variations to the general theme, a result of the traditionally non-mobile nature of rural communities:

Bowland – Yain, Tain, Eddera, Peddera, Pit, Tayter, Layter, Overa, Covera, Dix, Yain-a-dix, Tain-a-dix, Eddera-a-dix, Peddera-a-dix, Bumfit, Yain-a-bumfit, Tain-a-bumfit, Eddera-bumfit, Peddera-a-bumfit, Jiggit

Weardale – Yan, Teyan, Tethera, Methera, Tic, Yan-a-tic, Teyan-a-tic, Tethera-tic, Methera-tic, Bub, Yan-a-bub, Teyan-a-bub, Tethera-bub, Methera-bub, Tic-a-bub, Yan-tic-a-bub, Teyan-tic-a-bub, Tethea-tic-a-bub, Methera-tic-a-bub, Gigget

Wensleydale – Yain, Tain, Eddero, Peddero, Pitts, Tayter, Later, Overro, Coverro ,Disc, Yain disc, Tain disc, Ederro disc, Peddero disc, Bumfitt, Bumfitt yain, Bumfitt tain, Bumfitt ederro, Bumfitt peddero, Jiggit

Coniston – Yan, Taen, Tedderte, Medderte, Pimp, Haata, Slaata, Lowra, Dowra, Dick, Yan-a-Dick, Taen-a-Dick, Tedder-a-Dick, Medder-a-Dick, Mimph, Yan-a-Mimph, Taen-a-Mimph, Tedder-a-Mimph, Medder-a-Mimph, Gigget

Tong – Yan, Tan, Tether, Mether, Pick, Sesan, Asel, Catel, Oiner, Dick, Yanadick, Tanadick, Tetheradick, Metheradick, Bumfit, Yanabum, Tanabum, Tetherabum, Metherabum, Jigget

There’s a whole load more varieties on wikipeddera-a-dix.

They bring to mind Eeny Meeny Miny Moe, although there is no element of choosing with yan tan tetherae – just counting. Eeny Meeny Miny Moe comes in many forms, so it is not that odd that I was brought up on a slightly different version to the one most people seem to know. I’ve not come across many people using this version, although I believe it is a South East/ South thing – this source suggests Warwickshire and is slightly different to the one I know, and this one suggests London, and I grew up in Oxfordshire, which would be in the middle. Interestingly, in the first source I mention, a version for the West of London rhyme has ‘kethera’ in it, which has clear phonetic similarities with the Northern rhymes. So, to conclude, does anyone else know this version at all?

eena deena dina dos


catler, weena, weina, woss more »

Feb 08

253. To. Euston

FT + Proven By Science27 comments • 627 views

I mentioned on Lollards last night my growing (petty) irritation with the introduction of automated announcements on London buses, whereby the bus route and each stop is announced regularly throughout the journey. This morning I did a small, non-scientific, non-representative experiment to see whether my annoyance was reasonable – afterall, tube and overland trains have similar systems which are not half as irritating, and perhaps bus announcements just need adjusting to. Here are my results.

Journey: Stamford Hill Broadway to Brecknock Road
Bus: 253
Length of Journey: 19 minutes
Number of Stops: 18
Number of times announcement said ’253. To.    Euston’: 20
Number of times bus stop was announced: 18
Total number of announcements: 38

The pattern of announcements was this – on approach to bus stop announce stop name, on arrival at bus stop announce destination before opening doors (why?!), then once doors are closed and bus is pulling away, announce it again, for the benefit of passengers who have got on the bus and immediately forgotten which bus they got onto. There were a couple of stops where the destination was announced only once, but most of them got 2 announcements per stop. With the bus stopping approximately every minute this gives an average of 2 announcements every minute.

I’m not saying that this system doesn’t have merit – it is clearly quite useful in a number of ways, but it is excessively intrusive. Buses are quieter than trains, on the whole, so the announcement is clearer, and harder to tune out. I am fully convinced of the value of announcing the stop name, but announcing the destination is surely not as important, especially this frequently. I know it benefits people with visual impairments, but it’s not like they get on random buses then sit there waiting for an announcement that will let them know whether they’ve got on the right bus or not.  And people getting off a bus have no real need to know what bus they are alighting from.

My experiment also suggests that no one will sit next to you if you have an open notepad into which you record a tally.

Jan 08

Food Triads and Double Dips

Pumpkin Publog4 comments • 389 views

Here’s a couple of food science-y items recently brought to my attention.

Firstly – the hygiene issues surrounding ‘communal dipping’. I’m sure everyone is pretty familiar with this practice, unless you live in a cave or something. This New York Times article deals with a study about bacteria levels in dip, with what to me seem quite obvious results – that dipping the same chip twice into a pot of shared dip = more bacteria, although the article seems surprised by this result. The scientist’s general conclusion – do not eat dip at parties unless you’d also be willing to kiss everyone else there, as it (bacterially speaking) adds up to the same thing, a conclusion that makes me feel vaguely paranoid – what if everyone finds out about this study? I foresee situations at parties where eating dip is seen as a come-on, ie if you’re happy to eat the dip, you’re also happy getting off with whoever else is ‘dipping’.

Secondly – a food science challenge! The problem posed is

Can you find three foods such that all three do not go together (by any reasonable definition of foods “going together”) but every pair of them does go together?

(There’s more instructions and explanation under the link)

Anyone got any solutions?

There’s also some interesting possibilities for food science experiments, personally I’d love to see what Lemon Mole tastes like.

 UPDATE: This resource could also be handy here.

(all via

Jan 08

Spoiling Halva

FT + Pumpkin Publog5 comments • 1,115 views


Halva is an acquired taste – I’ve never successfully convinced anyone who’s not had it before that it is nice, despite my efforts. I think it’s the uneasy marriage of bitter and slightly sickly. Last night I was wandering about a local shop looking for ricotta (nothing doing) when I stumbled across this – Helva’m produced by Sebahat. I had to buy some, I liked the shape of the container. It excited me to think I could possess it and have it in my house FOR ALL TIME.I got home and had a bit, as an appetiser before my wonderfully healthy dinner of tiger prawns, broccoli and asparagus (which I later spoiled, condiment wise, by mistaking the balsamic vinegar for the soy sauce. Aciiid!). But back to the helva. Halva. Whatever. It looked like Nutella. I dug down into it a bit expecting some beige strata at some point, but it was Nutella-y all the way down (usually when I eat  halva I like to pretend I am on Time Team, excavating a site. With a teaspoon). It tasted like Nutella without the hazelnuts – ie dull. Just plain Ella. I could just about get a hint of the sesame tones of halva, but very faintly. I am quite capable of eating stupid amounts of almost anything, often regardless of taste, but I couldn’t really see a point in continuing to eat the Helva’m.

It wasn’t the taste that finally stopped me, mind you – it was the consistency. You know how Nutella is spreadable, in a way that means however much you want to to eat it straight from the glass, you feel compelled to employ a bready mediator for the sake of decency? That’s a good thing. It’s useful to be able to spread spread. The picture on the Helva’m tub suggests a similar spreading fate for its contents, but the consistency is like a thick clay. You’d have to melt this stuff before it would spread evenly, and even then I’m not convinced it would work. So I figured it was meant to be eaten from the tub, because who’d be crazy enough to melt this stuff down each time they wanted a snack?! (Well, I say ‘I figured’; I was actually too lazy to bother doing anything else). I found myself having to bite the stuff off the spoon, which is not the intended consumption technique for spoons – I tried licking it, but the damn stuff was practically waterproof, like slightly softer plasticine. Once in my mouth it took a lot of mastication to get it to unstick from my palate. My neck muscles actually ached trying to swallow a spoonful. Then I got a headache. So, er, thanks Sebahat, for ruining halva for me. The name even connotes hesitation if you squint a bit – Helva?  Um ……no thanks.

Helva’m tastes of very little, is waterproof and incredibly sticky. I think I’m going to grout the bathroom with it.

Nov 07


The Brown Wedge/13 comments • 698 views

agathaThe seeds of the detective fiction genre were planted with Poe’s 1841 publication of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, but it was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868) that introduced many of the now classic features of the genre – viz – a country house robbery, a celebrated investigator, bungling local constabulary, false suspects, the ‘locked room’ problem, the ‘least likely’ suspect solution.  By the 1920/ 1930s the genre was firmly established, and enjoying a golden age, seeing stories published by the ‘Queens of Crime’ – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, who introduced us to detectives such as Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Chief Inspector Alleyn, Albert Campion (and less well known – Sayers’ other amateur detective – the wine salesman Montague Egg). The golden age helped cement the various characteristics (clichés even) that modern audiences feel are indicative of the genre.
In 1929 the crime writing priest* Ronald Knox wrote his Ten Commandments for detective fiction:

1. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.  
2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.  
3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.  
4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.  
5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.

Nov 07

Unexpected Agatha Enema

FT7 comments • 590 views

Last week I went to Hackney Empire to see The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie, produced by Bill Kenwright. The play was written in 1958. I’m not clear how faithful to the original script this production is, but it had a few signs, mainly of the linguistic variety that it had been adapted somewhat for a modern audience (a particular example being the detective uttering a distinctly Alf Stewart-esque ‘strewth’, which didn’t strike me as especially Christie-ish). This modernisation sits poorly with the character of Jan, here played by Robbie from Eastenders, who is ‘retarded’ (their words). The attitude towards Jan is passively tolerant, but underlaid with a sense that it’s ok to laugh at people with learning difficulties. There are a few explicit statements this effect, but the humour was mainly derived from dramatic rolling of eyes and knowing looks at the audience from cast members. I can accept that the use of ‘retarded’ was meant to be of its time, and possibly the dubious attitude too, but given the modernization in other areas of script previously mentioned, this approach seems distasteful (to me at least, there were plenty of people laughing in the audience). Dean Gaffney’s approach to portraying Jan was to use babytalk and put on a silly voice, which was just excruciating and just a little bit insulting. It certainly wasn’t essential to the plot.

Oct 07

Confused by cerveza?

FT + Pumpkin Publog + The Brown Wedge17 comments • 10,144 views

Things most people know about European languages  – One – Spanish for ‘beer’ is ‘cerveza’. Two – English is not in the same language family as French and Spanish. When looking at other European words for beer it is apparent that lots of them are similar to the English, making the Spanish word look a bit odd, it being so different phonetically from the others, and the superficial assumption that it’s a weird anomaly is reasonable, but it’s actually the French and Italian words that are anomalous.  

There are four basic word roots for ‘beer’ in European languages, found in the Germanic, Slavic,  Scandinavian (technically Nordic and Baltic), and Italic language families. The derivation of beer themed words from roots related to brewing/ or beer ingredients is common, for example ‘brew’ and ‘broth’ both come from indo-European ‘*bhru’, a word connected to heat and bubbling (asterisk denotes a word that’s been reconstructed theoretically, but has no direct evidence for its existence). 

Scandinavian languages use a word possibly derived from a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word meaning ‘bitter’. English has a word from the same source – ‘ale’, from the Old English ‘ealu’ (OE was influenced both by Germanic and Norse languages). Ales bitter reputation stems from the bitter herbs, or gruit used in its preparation, and from comparison to the other popular sweet tipple of the time – mead. ‘Ale’ could also derive from a PIE word that had connotations of sorcery, magic, possession, and intoxication, and it has been suggested that Neolithic beers were flavoured with henbanea poison that would cause the drinker to act somewhat erratically, so perhaps ‘ale’ dates from as long ago as that. Here’s the various Scandanavian words: