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Below from Ray Smith Sheep counting in binary

and from Tony Walker

 

Te deu wid sheep

From Ted Relph

From time to time we are asked for information about the old system of counting sheep, beginning 'yan, tyan, tethera.' As it is over a quarter of a century since an article about this appeared in our Journal (LDS No.30, 1968) perhaps it would be helpful to resurrect something about this rather academic and complicated subject.

Most writers admit that they have never actually heard anyone counting in this way. It seems to be a bit of 'folk-history' which reappears in articles and 'readers' letters' from time to time, but it is obvious that unique counting systems did exist in former days, not only for counting sheep but in games of different sorts, knitting, fishing and in counting the goods in warehouses.

There would seem to be a clear connection with counting on the fingers, particularly after getting to 10, as the best known local examples then go 1 and 10, 2 and 10, etc up to 15, then 1 and 15, 2 and 15, etc up to

20. The count invariably ended at 20. This was a 'score' and a scratch was then put in a stick or stone, and the count recommenced. In this way things were counted in scores. It is said that the shepherds, on reaching 20, would transfer a pebble or marble from one pocket to another, so as to keep a tally of the number of scores.

Michael V. Barry, of Queen's University, Belfast states that over a hundred different versions of the numbers had been collected, mostly from 19th century publications. Many people who submitted numbers did not say what they were used for and over half of them gave no supporting information of any kind. From those who did, it was found that they were in fact rarely used by shepherds but more often by children, as counting rhymes, or by parents and nursemaids in amusing them! It would seem that every fifth numeral was considered of more importance and the intervening numbers were said very rapidly. This perhaps accounts for the fact that there is more variation in these intervening numbers than in 5, 10, 15, 20.

5 is usually 'pimp', but can be pip, fip, pitts and, in Ayrshire, bamf. 10 is almost always 'dick', dix or deg but clen or galen in parts of Wales. 15 is typically 'bumfit' in Northern England and 20 is commonly 'giggot' or jiggot. The 'dick', or 'deg' for 10 suggests a strong Celtic origin, which was in the same group of languages was Latin [decem], French [dis] and even Hindi [das]. Similarly, 'pimp' for 5 is obviously connected with the modern Welsh [pump] and probably with Latin [quinque] and Hindi [panch]. Bumfit can perhaps be identified as 'pump-dec' [ 5 plus 10 ] but giggot [20] is not explained!

There was an article on the subject by J. R. Witty in the 1927 Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society and an earlier article by A. J. Ellis on the 'Anglo-Cymric Score' in 'Transactions of the Philological Society' in 1877-8-9. Ellis concluded that most informants took the score very lightly and that it could not have been used much after 1825, though it may have been more much common two or three centuries earlier. Strenuous efforts by other researchers, including Prof. A. H. Smith and Harold Orton have failed to find the numerals in actual use. 'Many people know it and recite it out of an antiquarian interest, or as some kind of philological curiosity, but no one uses it for a geniunely utilitarian purpose'. After all, it is difficult enough trying to count sheep in 2s or 3s, never mind singly!

Welsh would seem to be the only Celtic language which counts to fifteen and then to 20. Mr. Barry says that various theories have been put forward to explain the survival of the numerals mainly in North West England. One is the Survival theory, suggesting that they have remained from Celtic times, where isolated pockets of Britons survived the Anglo-Saxon and later invaders. There are two 'Importation' theories; the first presupposes the survival of the numerals in Strathclyde, and that they then came to Lakeland via the Scottish drovers; the second suggests they came in from Wales during Medieval times. Evidence is scanty for any of the theories, and the surviving versions of the score have become so garbled that any real analysis of them is now impossible. (Just to correct a common fallacy, there seems to be no direct connection whatsoever with Scandinavia via 'Old Norse').

Here are a few examples to show the local variations, though there are often conflicting versions collected from the same dale. In Eskdale, 8 & 9 seem to have been exchanged with 6 & 7.

1 2 3 4 5

Keswick. yan tyan tethera methera pimp.

Westmorland. yan tyan tetherie peddera gip.

Eskdale. yaena taena teddera meddera pimp.

Millom. aina peina para pedera pimp.

High Furness. yan taen tedderte medderte pimp

Wasdale. yan taen tudder anudder nimph

Teesdale. yan tean tetherma metherma pip

Swaledale yahn tayhn tether mether mimp(h)

Wensleydale yan tean tither mither pip

Ayrshire yinty tinty tetheri metheri bamf

 

6 7 8 9 0 15

Keswick sethera lethera hovera dovera dick bumfit

Westmorland teezie mithy katra hornie dick bumfit

Eskdale hofa lofa seckera leckera dec bumfit

Millom ithy mithy owera lowera dig bumfit

High Furness haata slaata lowera dowra dick mimph

Wasdale ..........not given.........................

Teesdale lezar azar catrah horna dick bumfit

Swaledale hith-her lith-her anver danver dic mimphit

Wensleydale teaser leaser catra horna dick bumper

Ayrshire leetera seetera over dover dik - -

Among children’s counting out games they found the following; observe these seem to count in fours, probably to suit the rhyme

[Edinburgh]"Inty, tinty, tethery, methery; Bank for over, dover, ding .."

[London] "Eena, deena, dus; cattala, wheela, wheila, wus; spit, spot, must be done.

[Universal] "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe; Catch a nigger by his toe".

Scores have even been found in a number of places in U.S.A.

[Cincinnati] een, teen, tother, feather, fib, soter, oter, poter, debber, dick

[Vermont] eeni, teni, tudheri, fedheri, fip, saidher, taidher, koadher, daidher, dik

These were probably taken to the new world by Cumbrian settlers !!

 

Footnote...

In addition to those quoted, a number of other articles have been written on the subject, the more important of these are ...

Rev. T. Ellwood. "Numerals formerly used for sheep scoring in the Lake Country"

C & W Trans. O.S. Vol III 1876-1877 xxxii-xxxiv.

E. E. Speight. Antiquary. 1893 Vol. XXVIII.

K. Jackson. "Language and History in Early Britain" Edinburgh, 1963

D. MacRichie. "The Celtic Numerals of Strathclyde"

Proceedings, Society of Antiquaries, Scotland. Vol XLIX 1915.


Note from M. McGregor - nothing to do with counting sheep

Sturdy There is a common belief that some shepherds had the knack of removing the `sturdies', by rapping the sheep on the head with their crooks, and the sheep often recovers. In fact The old shepherds bored a small hole through the skull over the site of the 'sturdy', then inserted a small barbed 'instrument' prepared from a feather stem or a reed, twisted it around to catch the sac containing fluid and the 'eggs' of the parasite, and so pulled it out. It was essential to remove the sac without bursting it, then the 'auld yowe' had an excellent chance of recovery.


From Ray Smith in Australia

I was reading with some interest your article on the counting of sheep and it put me in mind of a chap I worked with in the late '60's and early '70's.

I was living at Carle Cross, Soutergate by the Duddon Estuary and working on a number of farms in the district. On one of the farms I met a chap who  used to count the yows in binary!!
His left thumb was one, then his left index finger (alone) was two, index finger and thumb was three then the second finger (alone) was four. Continuing in this fashion his ring finger (alone) was eight and his little finger (alone) was sixteen! The right hand started at thirty
two and the count continued. He generally ran out of fingers before he ran out of yows and I never saw him miscount in all the time I spent with him.


From Tony Walker wcti@btinternet.com

Sheep Counting.

The Cumbrian sheep numerals are clearly Celtic in origin and clearly Brittonic rather than Gaelic. Their closest relatives are those of Welsh, Cornish and Breton. However, I think that the form 'giggot' proves that they are not imported from Wales (though they may be from Stratchclyde). Actually the Strathclyde survival is a bit of a red herring as the Medieval Kingdom of Strathclyde with its language 'Cumbric' was alternatively known as Cumbria or Cambria. So to talk about importing from Strathclyde to Cumbria is tautological.

Ok, Giggot.

20 in Irish is Fichead and 20 in Welsh is Ugain.   So far no obvious connection. In Middle Welsh it is ugeint. Getting closer. Both the Irish and Welsh forms point back to a Common Celtic form   *wicant.  In Welsh
and in Cumbric an initial 'w' can grow a "G" in front of it. Normall does actually, but irritatingly not in ugeint (=20). Compare Gwas (a servant) Welsh and "Gos" a servant as in "Gospatric" and early Cumbrian
aristocrat. So common Celtic would regularly give something like "Gwigent" in early Cumbric. Now another thing that Cumbric appears to do is, after growing a g in front of a w sound, it loses the 'w' leaving
just the G. Compare Gospatric against the Welsh Gwaspadrig and the Galloway word "gossocks" which is of the same origin. 
Still with me?  So I would expect the Cumbric word for 20 to have been Giggent.    Clearly I have still to explain the loss of the 'n'. Irish does it too in 'Fichead' notice above, but I am not claiming Irish
influence. It is either a development of the Cumbric langauge that we know nothing about or it has just got worn down over the centuries 
There you go - pretty strong arguments in favour of the Sheep counting numerals in the North West of England and Scotland to be relics of the native Cumbric langauge rather than imports or reinventions.  For
comparison I give the Welsh numberals to 20 in their feminine forms. Remember sheep 'dafad' is feminine so I would expect the Cumbric numerals to be feminine too.

Un, dwy, tair, pedair, pump (pron. pimp), chwech, saith, wyth, deg, un
ar ddeg, deuddeg, tair ar ddeg, pedair ar ddeg, pymtheg, (pron.
pumtheg), un ar bymtheg, dwy ar bymtheg, deunaw, pedair ar bymtheg,
ugain


Note from M. McGregor - nothing to do with counting sheep

Sturdy There is a common belief that some shepherds had the knack of removing the `sturdies', by rapping the sheep on the head with their crooks, and the sheep often recovers. In fact The old shepherds bored a small hole through the skull over the site of the 'sturdy', then inserted a small barbed 'instrument' prepared from a feather stem or a reed, twisted it around to catch the sac containing fluid and the 'eggs' of the parasite, and so pulled it out. It was essential to remove the sac without bursting it, then the 'auld yowe' had an excellent chance of recovery.

 

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