Yan Tan Tethera
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Yan Tan Tethera

Yan Tan Tethera or yan-tan-tethera is a sheep-counting system traditionally used by shepherds in Northern England and some other parts of Britain.[1] The words are numbers taken from Brythonic Celtic languages such as Cumbric which had died out in most of Northern England by the sixth century, but they were commonly used for sheep counting and counting stitches in knitting until the Industrial Revolution, especially in the fells of the Lake District. Though most of these number systems fell out of use by the turn of the twentieth century, some are still in use.

## Origin and development

Sheep-counting systems ultimately derive from Brythonic Celtic languages, such as Cumbric; Tim Gay writes: "[Sheep-counting systems from all over the British Isles] all compared very closely to 18th-century Cornish and modern Welsh".[2] It is impossible, given the corrupted form in which they have survived, to be sure of their exact origin. The counting systems have changed considerably over time. A particularly common tendency is for certain pairs of adjacent numbers to come to resemble each other by rhyme (notably the words for 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 6 and 7, or 8 and 9). Still, multiples of five tend to be fairly conservative; compare bumfit with Welsh pymtheg, in contrast with standard English fifteen.

## Use in sheep counting

Like most Celtic numbering systems, they tend to be vigesimal (based on the number twenty), but they usually lack words to describe quantities larger than twenty; though this is not a limitation of either modernised decimal Celtic counting systems or the older ones. To count a large number of sheep, a shepherd would repeatedly count to twenty, placing a mark on the ground, or move his hand to another mark on his crook, or drop a pebble into his pocket to represent each score (e.g. 5 score sheep = 100 sheep).

### Importance of keeping count

In order to keep accurate records (e.g. of birth and death) and to be alert to instances of straying, shepherds must perform frequent head-counts of their flocks. Dating back at least to the medieval period, and continuing to the present in some areas like Slaidburn, farms were granted fell rights, allowing them access to common grazing land. To prevent overgrazing, it was vitally important for each farm to keep accurate, updated head-counts. Though fell rights are largely obsolete in modern agriculture except in upland areas, farms are often subsidised and taxed according to the quantity of their sheep. For this reason, accurate counts are still necessary, and must be performed frequently.

Generally, a count is the first action performed in the morning and the last action performed at night. A count is made after moving the sheep from one pasture to another, and after any operation involving the sheep, such as shearing, tagging, foot-trimming, mulesing, etc., although sheep are far less likely to stray while being moved in a group than when grazing at large on open ground.

## Knitting

Their use is also attested in a "knitting song" known to be sung around the middle of the nineteenth century in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, beginning "yahn, tayhn, tether, mether, mimph".[3]

## Modern usage

The counting system has been used for products sold within Northern England, such as prints,[4] beers,[5] and yarns,[6] as well as artistic works referencing the region such as Harrison Birtwistle's 1986 opera Yan Tan Tethera.

## "Yan" or "yen"

The word yan or yen for "one" in Cumbrian, Northumbrian, and some Yorkshire dialects generally represents a regular development in Northern English in which the Old English long vowel /?:/ <?> was broken into /ie/, /ia/ and so on. This explains the shift to yan and ane from the Old English ?n, which is itself derived from the Proto-Germanic *ainaz.[7][8] Another example of this development is the Northern English word for "home", hame, which has forms such as hyem, yem and yam all deriving from the Old English h?m.[9]

## Systems by region

### Yorkshire and Lancashire

 Number Bowland Rathmell Nidderdale Swaledale Wharfedale Teesdale 1 Yain Aen Yain Yan Yan Yan 2 Tain Taen Tain Tan Tan Tean 3 Eddera Tethera Eddero Tether Tether Tether 4 Peddera Fethera Peddero Mether Mether 5 Pit Phubs Pitts Pip Pip 6 Tayter Aayther Tayter Azer Lezar 7 Layter Layather Layter Sezar Azar 8 Overa Quoather Overo Akker Catrah 9 Covera Quaather Covero Conter Borna 10 Dix Dugs Dix Dick Dick 11 Yain-a-dix Aena dugs Yaindix Yanadick Yan-a-dick 12 Tain-a-dix Taena dugs Taindix Tanadick Tean-a-dick 13 Eddera-a-dix Tethera dugs Edderodix Tetheradick Tether-dick 14 Peddera-a-dix Fethera dugs Pedderodix Metheradick Mether-dick 15 Bumfit Buon Bumfit Bumfit Bumfit 16 Yain-a-bumfit Aena buon Yain-o-Bumfit Yanabum Yan-a-bum 17 Tain-a-bumfit Taena buon Tain-o-Bumfit Tanabum Tean-a-bum 18 Eddera-bumfit Tethera buon Eddero-Bumfit Tetherabum Tethera-bum 19 Peddera-a-bumfit Fethera buon Peddero-Bumfit Metherabum Methera-bum 20 Jiggit Gun a gun Jiggit Jigget Jiggit

### Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and County Durham

 Number Derbyshire Weardale Tong Kirkby Lonsdale Wensleydale Derbyshire Dales Lincolnshire 1 Yain Yan Yan Yaan Yain Yan Yan 2 Tain Teyan Tan Tyaan Tain Tan Tan 3 Eddero Tethera Tether Taed'ere Eddero Tethera Tethera 4 Pederro Methera Mether Mead'ere Peddero Methera Pethera 5 Pitts Tic Pick Mimp Pitts Pip Pimp 6 Tayter Yan-a-tic Sesan Haites Tayter Sethera Sethera 7 Later Teyan-a-tic Asel Saites Later Lethera Lethera 8 Overro Tethera-tic Catel Haoves Overro Hovera Hovera 9 Coverro Methera-tic Oiner Daoves Coverro Dovera Covera 10 Dix Bub Dick Dik Disc Dick Dik 11 Yain-dix Yan-a-bub Yanadick Yaan'edik Yain disc Yan-a-dik 12 Tain-dix Teyan-a-bub Tanadick Tyaan'edik Tain disc Tan-a-dik 13 Eddero-dix Tethera-bub Tetheradick Tead'eredik Ederro disc Tethera-dik 14 Peddero-dix Methera-bub Metheradick Mead'eredik Peddero disc Pethera-dik 15 Bumfitt Tic-a-bub Bumfit Boon, buom, buum Bumfitt Bumfit 16 Yain-o-bumfitt Yan-tic-a-bub Yanabum Yaan'eboon Bumfitt yain Yan-a-bumfit 17 Tain-o-bumfitt Teyan-tic-a-bub Tanabum Tyaan'eboon Bumfitt tain Tan-a-bumfit 18 Eddero-o-bumfitt Tethea-tic-a-bub Tetherabum Tead'ereboon Bumfitt ederro Tethera-bumfit 19 Peddero-o-bumfitt Methera-tic-a-bub Metherabum Mead'ereboon Bumfitt peddero Pethera-bumfit 20 Jiggit Gigget Jigget Buom'fit, buum'fit Jiggit Figgot

### Southwest England

 Number South West England (Variations) West Country Dorset 1 Yahn Hant 2 Tayn Tant 3 Tether Tothery 4 Mether Forthery 5 Mumph Fant 6 Hither Sahny 7 Lither Dahny 8 Auver Downy 9 Dauver Dominy 10 Dic Dik 11 Yahndic Haindik 12 Tayndic Taindik 13 Tetherdic Totherydik 14 Metherdic Fotherydik 15 Mumphit Jiggen 16 Yahna Mumphit Hain Jiggen 17 Tayna Mumphit Tain Jiggen 18 Tethera Mumphit Tother Jiggen 19 Methera Mumphit Fother Jiggen 20 Jigif Full Score

### Cumberland, and Westmorland

 Number Coniston Borrowdale Eskdale Westmorland 1 Yan Yan Yaena Yan 2 Taen Tyan Taena Tahn 3 Tedderte Tethera Teddera Teddera 4 Medderte Methera Meddera Meddera 5 Pimp Pimp Pimp Pimp 6 Haata Sethera Seckera Settera 7 Slaata Lethera Leckera Lettera 8 Lowra Hovera Hofa Hovera 9 Dowra Dovera Lofa Dovera 10 Dick Dick Dec Dick 11 Yan-a-Dick Yan-a-Dick Yan Dick 12 Taen-a-Dick Tyan-a-Dick Tahn Dick 13 Tedder-a-Dick Tethera-Dick Teddera Dick 14 Medder-a-Dick Methera-Dick Meddera Dick 15 Mimph Bumfit Bumfit 16 Yan-a-Mimph Yan-a-bumfit Yan-a-Bumfit 17 Taen-a-Mimph Tyan-a-bumfit Tahn-a Bumfit 18 Tedder-a-Mimph Tethera Bumfit Teddera-Bumfit 19 Medder-a-Mimph Methera Bumfit Meddera-Bumfit 20 Gigget Giggot Jiggot

### Wilts, Scots, Lakes, Dales and Welsh

Note: Scots here means "Scots" not "Gaelic"

 Number Wilts Scots Lakes Dales Welsh 1 Ain Yan Auna Yain Un 2 Tain Tyan Peina Tain Dau 3 Tethera Tethera Para Edderoa Tri 4 Methera Methera Peddera Peddero Pedwar 5 Mimp Pimp Pimp Pitts Pump 6 Ayta Sethera Ithy Tayter Chwech 7 Slayta Lethera Mithy Leter Saith 8 Laura Hovera Owera Overro Wyth 9 Dora Dovera Lowera Coverro Naw 10 Dik Dik Dig Dix Deg 11 Ain-a-dik Yanadik Ain-a-dig Yain-dix Un ar ddeg 12 Tain-a-dik Tyanadik Pein-a-dig Tain-dix Deuddeg 13 Tethera-a-dik Tetheradik Para-a-dig Eddero-dix Tri ar ddeg 14 Methera-a-dik Metheradik Peddaer-a-dig Pedderp-dix Pedwar ar ddeg 15 Mit Bumfitt Bunfit Bumfitt Pymtheg 16 Ain-a-mit Yanabumfit Aina-a-bumfit Yain-o-bumfitt Un ar bymtheg 17 Tain-a-mit Tyanabumfitt Pein-a-bumfit Tain-o-bumfitt Dau ar bymtheg 18 Tethera-mit Tetherabumfitt Par-a-bunfit Eddero-bumfitt Deunaw 19 Gethera-mit Metherabumfitt Pedder-a-bumfit Peddero-bumfitt Pedwar ar bymtheg 20 Ghet Giggot Giggy Jiggit Ugain

### Numerals in Brythonic Celtic languages

 Number Ancient British Old Welsh Welsh Cornish (Kemmyn) Breton 1 *oinos (m + n), *oin? (f) un un unn; onan unan 2 *dw?u (m), *dw? (f) dou, (?) dau, dwy dew, diw daou, div 3 *tr?s (m), *tisres (f) tri, (?) tri, tair tri, teyr tri, teir 4 *petwares (m), *petesres (f) petuar, (?) pedwar, pedair peswar, peder pevar, peder 5 *pempe pimp pump pymp pemp 6 *swexs chwech chwech hwegh c'hwec'h 7 *sextan seith saith seyth seizh 8 *oxt? wyth wyth eth eizh 9 *nawan nau naw naw nav 10 *dekan dec deg deg dek 11 *oinodekan un ar ddeg unnek unnek 12 *dw?udekan deuddeg dewdhek daouzek 13 *tr?dekan tri ar ddeg, tair ar ddeg trydhek trizek 14 *petwardekan pedwar ar ddeg, pedair ar ddeg peswardhek pevarzek 15 *pempedekan pymtheg pymthek pemzek 16 *swexsdekan un ar bymtheg hwetek c'hwezek 17 *sextandekan dau ar bymtheg, dwy ar bymtheg seytek seitek 18 *oxt?dekan deunaw etek triwec'h 19 *nawadekam pedwar ar bymtheg, pedair ar bymtheg nownsek naontek 20 *wikant? ugain ugens ugent

## References

1. ^ Distin, Kate (2010). Cultural Evolution. Cambridge University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-521-18971-2.
2. ^ Gay, Tim (July 1999). "Rural dialects and surviving Britons". British Archaeology (46): 18.
3. ^ R. S. T. (1863). "Knitting Song". Notes and Queries. 3rd Series. 4: 205.
4. ^ St Jude's Prints. "Yan tan Tethera". St. Jude's Prints. Retrieved .
5. ^ "New Beer - Yan Tan Tethera". Great Newsome Brewery. 2019-03-31. Retrieved .
6. ^ "Yan tan tethera". Etsy. Retrieved .
7. ^ Leith, Dick (1997). A Social History of English. Routledge. p. 45. ISBN 0-415-09797-5. (Alternate ISBN 978-0-415-09797-0)
8. ^ Griffiths, Bill (2004). A Dictionary of North East Dialect. Northumbria University Press. p. 191. ISBN 1-904794-16-5.
9. ^ Griffiths, Bill (2004). A Dictionary of North East Dialect. Northumbria University Press. p. 79. ISBN 1-904794-16-5.

• Rawnsley, Hardwicke Drummmond (1987) "Yan tyan tethera: counting sheep". Woolley: Fleece Press ISBN 0948375175