Sheep-scoring numbers

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Sheep scoring numbers

These numbers are thought to be remnants of Brythonic languages related to Welsh and Cornish. They were collected from many parts of the British Isles mainly during the 19th century and there are many versions of them. They were used in children's counting games, and to count sheep and cattle, knitting stitches, money and so on.

Like traditional Welsh numbers, the sheep scoring systems are vigesimal. Most versions only go up to 20, and for each 20 or score shepherds would put a pebble in their pocket, scratch a mark on a stick or stone, or use grooves, nobbles and nicks in their crooks to keep track of how many they'd counted.

These numbers were used in some places, particularly the Lake District, until the early 20th century, though by then only a few people remembered them.

Here is a selection of sheep scoring numbers from Cumbria and Yorkshire:

  Cumbria Yorkshire
  Millom Keswick Kirkby Lonsdale North Riding Swaledale Wensleydale
1 aina yan yaan arn yahn yan
2 peina tyan tyaan tarn tayhn tean
3 para tethera taed'ere tethera tether tither
4 pedera methera mead'ere fethera mether mither
5 pump pimp mimp pubs mimph pip
6 ithy sethera haites aayther hither teaser
7 mithy lethera saites layather lither leaser
8 owera hovera haoves quoather anver catra
9 lavera dovera daoves quaaather danver horna
10 dig dick dik dugs dic dick
11 aina-dig yanadick yaan'edik arnadugs yahn-dic yan-dick
12 peina-dig tanadick tyaan'edik tarnadugs tayhndic tean-dick
13 para-dig tetheradick tead'eredik tetheradugs tetherdic tither-dick
14 pedera-dig petheradick mead'eredik fetheradugs metherdic mither-dick
15 bumfit bumfit boon / buom / buum buon mimphit / mump bumper
16 aina-bumfit yanabumfit yaan'eboon arnabuon yahn-a-mimphit yan-a-bum
17 peina-bumfit tanabumfit tyaan'eboon tarnabuon tayhn-a-mimphit tean-a-bum
18 para-bumfit tetherabumfit tead'ereboon tetherabuonf tether-a-mimphit tither-a-bum
19 pedera-bumfit petherabumfit mead'ereboon fetherabuon mether-a-mimphit mither-a-bum
20 giggy jiggit buom'fit / buum'fit gun-a-gun jigit jiggit

Links

More information about the sheep scoring numbers
http://www.lakelanddialectsociety.org/counting_sheep.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yan_Tan_Tethera
http://www.fellpony.f9.co.uk/country/wool/count.htm
http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba46/ba46int.html
http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/sheep.htm

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