Mar 08

Tetheradick, Metheradick, Bumfit

FT4 comments • 805 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


spit spat must be done


twiddle’em, twoddle’em twenty one


O.U.T spells ‘out’


so out you must go


  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 14 Mar 2008 #

    In modern Welsh you can count decimally or vigesimal. Everything is the same up to 10, but once you run out of fingers things get interesting. So eg 34 = “twenty plus 14”, and 60 = ‘three twenties’. Brilliantly, 18 has its own number which translates to ‘two nines’.

    Of course I had to look all this up because I learned the decimal way instead: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Welsh/Numbers

  2. 2

    i guess there’s a ghost of counting in 20s still in english, when eg you say “three score and ten” for 70

    hharrison birtwistle wrote an opera called yan tan tethera but i don’t know it

  3. 3
    Tom on 14 Mar 2008 #

    I knew YTT from the some Opie book or other.

    But I was unaware of “PIMP, HAATA” – urban shepherd alert!

  4. 4
    Keith W on 20 Mar 2008 #

    The “peddera” and “pimp” are recognisably Welsh (“pedwar”, for four, and “pump”, for five)

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