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Yan tan tethera

Posted by Amatire on April 20, 2004

In Reply to: Yan tan tethera posted by Henry on April 20, 2004

: 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?

That's interesting.. I've come across that counting system before but slightly different: Yan, Tan, Tethera, Methera, Pimp, Sethera, Lethera, Hovera, Dovera, Dik.

I know some people still use it, because it can be said much faster than "one, two, three..." and when you're counting a lot of sheep who are moving about, you need speed!

I wondered if it was anything like Norwegian numbers because a lot of Cumbrian words are very similar to Norwegian. I've been told that the majority of Vikings who settled in the area were from Norway as opposed to Denmark who settled in the North East.

That would explain why 'owt' is seen as a general northern word, if it came from an older scandanavian language which has traces in both....