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Yan tan tethera

Posted by Henry on April 20, 2004

In Reply to: Re: Cumbria posted by Rob on April 20, 2004

: : : I am writing a book about working class people in Cumbria in the early 20th century. I'm looking for commonly used phrases used by rural people to add authenticity to my book. I'm having real trouble coming up with anything on the internet, because most of the websites only talk about single words rather than phrases.

: : : EG. "nowt" - nothing.

: : I can't help -- I'm in the U.S. Some of the other guys might know.

: : : whereas I'm looking for something more along the lines of "Lord love you" "if you follow me" "time out of mind"

: : : things like that.

: : : Can anyone think of any, or provide me with a site likely to contain any phrases of this sort?

: Oh and also, to me nowt is more of a general Northern England saying that I thought was more associated with Yorkshire than anywhere else.

This old rhyming counting system survives in Cumbria. The numbers one to ten are represented as
yan, tan, tethera, tethera, pethera, pimp, sethera, methera, hovera, dik. I found this song on the internet. It's from Everyman's Book of English Country Songs, edited by Roy Palmer, who is a friend of mine!

The Lincolnshire Shepherd. The words of this song were got from Jesse Bagaley of Lincoln by Maurice Ogg of Colby, Lincs. The tune seems to be Mr Ogg's. The "yan tan tethera" refrain is said to be a distorted version of numerals used before the English language was spoken, and which for some reason survived among shepherds and schoolchildren. It's doubtful if many shepherds employ it today for scoring their sheep, but example of it may still be heard in playgrounds, especially in Cumbria, where it is used for counting-out.

Yan, tan, tethera, tethera, pethera, pimp.
Yon owd yowe's far-welted, and this yowe's got a limp
Sethera, methera, hovera, and covera up to dik,
Aye, we can deal wi' 'em all, and wheer's me crook and stick?