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