LINGUIST List 13.2203

Sat Aug 31 2002

Sum: Counting-out Rhymes

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Andy Arleo, counting-out rhymes

Message 1: counting-out rhymes

Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 11:38:43 +0200
From: Andy Arleo <>
Subject: counting-out rhymes

In July (Linguist 13.1969) I posted a query on counting-out rhymes, i.e.
children's rhymes used to designate, usually through elimination, a
central player in games like tag or hide and seek.

I wish to thank the following people for providing information: Marc
Armitage, Laurie Bauer, Barbara Boock, David Gil, Andreas Dufter, Steve
Hewitt, Dick Hudson, Michael Johnstone, Marianne Krause, Johanna Laakso,
Patrizia Noel, Rudolf Reinelt, Bart van der Veer, Catherine Walter,
Tomasz Wisniewski, Ghil`ad Zuckermann.

The replies (see below) concern the following languages: Breton, Dutch,
Finnish, German, Hungarian, Israeli, Japanese (for the game
"Jan-Ken-Pon", Stone, Scissors, Paper) and Polish. They are classified
first in alphabetical order according to language. This is followed by
replies with general information and references.

Andy Arleo

-BRETON (Steve Hewitt,

Dans le Tr�gor (nord-est du domaine bretonnant), on disait:

La vi, la va,
An hini n-eo ked kwached,
Ma karje 'oa!

"La vie, la va" [sans sens en breton]
Celui qui n'est pas cach�,
S'il le voulait, il le serait!

Je ne connais pas davantage.

Steve Hewitt
Ar Veroudeg 30 rue Charles Baudelaire
Ar C'houerc'had 75012 PARIS

De: "Bart van der Veer" <>

I don't know if you're interested in a Dutch example, but here is one

(syllables separated by a dot): mut.te
nonsense words
Tien pond grut.ten
ten pound gruau PL (= French gloss, don't know the English word) mut.te (not always repeated)
Tien pond kaas
ten pound cheese mut.te (not always repeated)
is de baas
is the boss

Language: Dutch
Country: Holland (and apparently also Flanders, Belgium, see first link
Words for counting-out-rhyme in Dutch: aftelrijmpje, aftelliedje,
aftelversje (Source: Van Dale Groot Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal)
Name of central player: baas 'boss' => (s)he is the boss, the leader



Bart van der Veer
Hoger Instituut voor Vertalers en Tolken,
Department of Italian


Finnish counting-out rhymes have been studied at least by the recently
deceased Leea Virtanen in her classic work also available in English:
Children's lore. [Helsinki] : Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura [=
Finnish Literature Society,], 1978. (Studia
Fennica, ISSN 0085-6835 ; 22) ISBN 951-717-148-X (pb.). But I am sure
that other folklorists have worked on this theme as well - I would
advise you to contact the people at the Finnish Literature Society,
where there are voluminous archives as well. I would not be surprised if

Estonian colleagues have done similar studies - try looking at They even have online archives for some
folklore collections in Estonia, perhaps there might be counting-out
rhymes there as well. In Finland, I managed to find one link page with
lots of sources to children's lore; there are online rhyme collections
there as well (

As far as I know (from my own experience), Finnish counting-out rhymes
are of two types. Some are clearly understandable and may be quite
modern (obviously fairly recently coined), such as

Auto ajoi kilparataa,
mittari n�ytti kahtasataa,
yksi py�r� putosi POIS.
[The car drove on the course,
the speedometer showed two hundred,
one wheel fell OFF.]


Maalari maalasi taloa,
sinist� ja punaista,
illan tullen sanoi h�n:
nyt min� l�hden t�st� talosta POIS.
[The painter painted a house
blue and red,
when the evening came, he said:
now I'm going AWAY from this house.]

The second type is completely nonsensical (or folk-etymological), based
on some foreign models. A good example which I learnt in my childhood (I

still remember how I wondered at the nonsensical words with a few
interpretable but out-of-place ones in between):

Prum prum prullaa,
reka reka rellaa,
seisastoppa sekalo.
S� varso ny, s� varso ny ['you give birth to a foal now'??].
Ahves tiikasta kallista ['expensive'] r��m��,
mesik�mmen arestista ['the honey-palm (the bear) from the arrest']
r�sk�m� r�s!

Later, when I discovered Virtanen's book, I was delighted to find out
that this rhyme represents a distortion of a Swedish one which must have

sounded like

Bro, bro, br�llop, [?'Bridge, bridge, wedding']
kejsarn st�r p� sitt h�ga slott ['the emperor stands in his high
s� vit som sn�, s� svart som d�d ['as white as snow, as black as
Varf�r �r en soldat b�ttre �n en herreman? ['Why is a soldier better
than a gentleman?']
Den som kommer allra sist �r d�den. ['The one who comes as the very last

is the death'].

(According to Virtanen, there is a real translation of this rhyme as
well in Finnish children's lore (Huraa huraa h�it�, / keisari seisoo
palatsissaan...). It was used in a game of tag, where the person
selected with this rhyme was called "the death", and players report
being really afraid of "becoming the death".)

A similar story of another nonsensical counting-out-rhyme, now with a
German model, is told by Osmo Ikola in the journal "Viritt�j�" (Entten
tentten teelikamentten: Er��n lastenlorun arvoitus. - Viritt�j�, Vol.
106 (1/2002); German abstract at


The most usual Finnish word for "counting-out rhyme" is "leikkiloru"
(or, perhaps, "leikkiluku") - "leikki" means 'children's game', "loru"
is a descriptive word with connotations to "making a sound like water
being poured", "blabbering", something meaningless or worthless. It
cannot be called "runo" (poem), which denotes something too "serious",
nor "riimi" (rhyme), because this children's lore need not be rhymed.
(Older Finnish folk poetry was not rhymed but alliterating; more recent
genres of folk and literary poetry use rhymes, but because of the
typological character of Finnish this is often structurally problematic,

leads to a na�ve repetition of a few rhyming suffixes or to a misuse of
the (too) few good rhyme words, which means that modern "serious" poetry

after World War II has abandoned the use of rhymes. They are used almost

exclusively in the lyrics of popular music and other more popular

As for the metrics of the Finnish counting-out rhymes, the examples I
know of are mostly trochaic(-dactylic) or the like (the octosyllabic
trochaic type suits best with the first-syllable-stress and canonical
stem disyllabicity of Finnish), sometimes with the last line (and the
crucial word for 'out') strongly accented:

AU-to | A-joi | KIL-pa- | RA-taa |
MIT-ta-ri | N�YT-ti | KAH-ta-| SA-taa |
YK-si | PY�-r� | PUTO-si | POIS !

Just now, I cannot think of any general terms for "to count out" or "It"

in Finnish. (The central player in a chasing game is called with the
same word that is used for the game, and these words vary dialectally.)

- FINNISH (2):
"Marianne Krause" <>

Finnish is a Fenno-Ugric language. Here are some of our popular c-o-r's: (One version of the
popular one: Entten tentten. The words, for the most part make as much
as Supercalifragilisticexpiallydocious, or however you spell it!) Here's

another version of the same rhyme:

Entten tentten teelika mentten,
hissun kissun vaapula vissun,
eelin keelin plot, viipula vaapula vot,
Eskon saum, pium paum,
nyt m� l�hden t�st� pelist� pois. (Now I'm going to quit this game)
Puh pah pelist� pois! Puh pah, quit this game!)

And another version of the same:

EEMELI VASTASI: NYT POIS! (Emil anwered: now leave!)

And yet another, longer version, that combines many other rhymes into
long rhyme:

Auto ajoi kilparataa (A car raced on the track)
mittari n�ytti kahtasataa (the meter says two hundred)
yksi py�r� putosi pois (one wheel fell off)
puh pah pelist� pois. (puh pah, off the game)
Entten tentten teelika mentten
Hissun kissun vaapula vissun
Eelin keelin klot
Viipula vaapula vot
Eskon saun piiun paaun
Nyt m� l�hden t�st� pelist� pois (now I'm going to quit this game)
Puh pah pelist� pois. (puh pah, leave this game)

Kissa hypp�s puuhun (The cat leaped to the tree)
Pisti nakin suuhun (put a sausage in his/her mouth)
Nakki meni poikki (the sausage broke in two)
Kissa pakoon loikki. (the cat escaped / ran away)

Entten tentten teelika mentten
Viisaat sukset lammet loo (THIS MAKES NO OR LITTLE SENSE:)Wise skies
Akka putos avantoon (The hag fell into a hole in the ice)
Ukko veti sen sielt� pois (the old man dragged her up)
Puh pah pelist� pois. (puh pah quit the game)
Elli keitti vellii(Elli (A WOMAN'S NAME) was cooking
Antoi Matin maistaa
Matti kaasi lattialle
Elli pyyhki pois
Puh pah pelist� pois.

A,B,C,kissa k�velee
tikapuita pitkin taivaaseen
Kurkistaa vilkuttaa
takaperin alas tulla tapsuttaa

Maalari maalas taloa
Sinist� ja punaista
Illan tullen sanoi h�n
Nyt m� l�hden t�st� pelist� pois
Puh pah pelist� pois.

Here's the more poular version of the rhyme above: (This well-known
is not a c-o-r.)


A, B, C, kissa k�velee,
tikapuita pitkin taivaaseen.
Tikapuut katkes,
kissan maha ratkes.

Omena oo

Omena oo, ompom poo,
pila pala pelist� pois.

Nalle karhu nalle karhu
Mene sis�lle
Nosta tassusi py�ri ymp�ri
Niiaa kumarra potkaise kiljaise karjaise
Koske k�si maahan
Sy� hunajaa
Mene pois.




Auto ajo kilparataa,
mittari n�ytti viitt�sataa.
Yksi py�r� putosi pois.

This one is in Swedish, that 6% of the Finns speak as their native

Olle dolle dof

Olle dolle dof,
kincke lade kof,
koffe lade, kincke lade,
olle dolle dof.
(Not sure of the correct spolling, though.)

All rhymes above are common in Finland. The most used one is Entten
tentten. As I mentioned, it is not Finnish, but incomprihensible
jargon. The only

words that mean something are Pois = away, out Vastasi = replied

Words for c-o-r's: Not commonly used and a quick gallup at my office
showed, that nobody knew the word: Lukuloru, where luku means number
and loru means nurseryrhyme, not necessarily with real rhymes.

"It" is somewhat difficult to translate into Finnish. We tent to say
"the one that becomes" or "is" (actually the verb is "to stay"). In
Finnish: Se, joka j��. (se = it ,s/he; joka = that; j�� = stays,

In some games It is called "hippa", that cannot be translated, I
think. A hippa is found in games where one has to catch or chase one
or more oter

players. Kiinniottaja = cather, chaser; polttaja = burner (in a game
called Polttopallo, where one "burns" other players avoiding the ball
in a circle)...

It seems both terms are difficult; there is no good word for eiter. If
the game suggests a word for It, it will gladly be deployed. (Such as
burner in Burning Ball, Polttopallo)

I'm sorry I can't refer to any studies. The only thing I can say is

there seems to be one rhyme above all, in all classes and groups;

tentten. Some of the words seem to originate in Swedish, but some
words sound more Finnish.

- GERMAN (Barbara Boock jamesUB.UNI-FREIBURG.DE):

here is my - very short - answer:
1) german
2) Bundesrepublik Deutschland, besides all German-speaking people all
the world
3) "Abz�hlvers" "Abz�hlreim" "abz�hlen" "ausz�hlen" which mean about the

same as the English words you mentioned. Besides, there exist
dialect-words I cannot write all down 4) the one who has to seek or to
chase after all the others are counted out is: "dran" or "muss" but
there is no special name for him or her. 5) There exist lots of these
counting out rhymes and they are different in the different areas of
Germany. I just don't have the time to name you a

greater number. 6) Dass ihr euch ja nich' schietig macht!111 Lieder
und Spiele von Hamburger Stra�en und H�fen, hrsg., aufgezeichnet und
mit Noten vers. von Peter Unbehauen. Hamburg, D�lling und Galitz,
1999. 232 S. : zahlr. Ill., Noten (Hinz-&-Kunzt-Buch)ISBN
3-930802-99-6 + Cd - contains more songs then counting-out rhymes An
old edition, reprinted is: Kinderlieder, Reime, Spr�che und
Abz�hlverse, gesammelt und hrsg. von Karl Simrock. (Repr.)
Welserm�hl, Borowsky,ca. 1977. 350 S. : Ill. - There will be a lot of
collections mentioned in our annotated bibliography of children
songbooks in our archive. The last point I want to leave out because
I am not so very familiar with the linguistic studies in this field.
Yours Barbara Boock

Barbara Boock, Bibliothekarin
Deutsches Volksliedarchiv
 - Arbeitsstelle f�r internationale Volksliedforschung
Silberbachstr. 13
D 79100 Freiburg

Tel (49) 761 70 50 30
Durchwahl (49) 761 70 50 314
Fax (49) 761 70 50 328

- HUNGARIAN (Michael Johnstone

I'd heard of a Hungarian counting-out rhyme beginning Ecc-Pecc, so I
did a websearch for it and found eight of them at

On this website at least they're called kisz�mol�k, which means
'out-counters'. Here's Ecc-Pecc with my literal translation:

Ecc, pecc, kimehetsz,
Holnaput�n bej�hetsz,
C�rn�ra, cineg�re,
Ugorj cica az eg�rre,

Ecc, pecc, you can go out,
The day after tomorrow you can come in,
Onto thread, onto titmouse,
Jump, puss, onto the mouse,

(ecc and etsz are both pronounced [Etts].)

I don't know anything about the context of use etc., but it might be
chasing some Hungarians about it! The website's also got
examples of 'battle-cries' (csataki�lt�sok). The site belongs to the
K�nyves K�lm�n Scout Troup, Hollywood, California, by the way.

There's also a tune for Ecc-pecc at:



en den dino
sof al hakatino
sof al hakati kato
elik belik bom

bom bom bom
ptakh et haalbom
sham tire oti
vetikakh oti

akhat shtayim shalosh arba khamesh

- JAPANESE (Rudolf Reinelt

What about Japanese Jan - Ken - Pon (translated as Stone - scissors -
paper)? There should be some literature about this, but probably very
little in English.
The following is a google search for this: (Items: Stone Scissor Paper)
(note A. Arleo: unfortunately the URLs are have become unreadable)

- POLISH (tomasz wisniewski

I can't do much for your research but you might be
interested in these little examples from Polish. I
used them in kindergarten about 1977 (Cracow, Poland,
Standard Colloquial), they are called wyliczanki (sg.
wyliczanka fem. liczyc' to count, wy- sort of "out",
-an- usually makes adjectives and participles
wyliczany-enumerated, calculated, -k- sometimes
diminutive sometimes nominal formant). Wyliczac is
the verb, acute on c (then its palatal tch, cz is a
hard maybe alveolar tch, y backed i). I don't know if
girls used the same ones but probably they did.

Ene due rabe
Zjad� Tadeusz zabe (dot over z)
Zaba Tadeusza w brzuchu mu sie rusza
Raz dwa trzy
Gonisz ty

(Ene Due Rabe Tadeusz ate a frog, the frog (ate)
Tadeusz, it moves in his belly, 1 2 3 YOU chase, ty
means you, its the "it" of English rhymes)

Ene due rabe
Chinczyk zlapal (both l's crossed) zabe
a zaba Chinczyka
Co z tego wynika
Raz dwa trzy
Bedziesz ty

(E.D.R. a Chinaman caught a frog, the frog (caught)
the Chinaman, what comes out of it? 1 2 3 it'll be
you, or literally you will be)

FInally here's an interesting almost bilingual rhyme:

Siedzia�a baba na sto�eczku (crossed � if you
processor doesn't read these signs)
liczy�a dzieci po niemiecku
ein zwei drei
(An old women sat on a stool, she counted children in
German, ein zwei drei, you're out; but the one out is
actually chosen, this is rather a vulgar word, the
English f. word plus "out" could be suggested, but so
that the speaker doesn't curse, he choses to say the
beginning wypie...and end it to sound like the word
"to pepper", this it the etymology, it means get out).


Dick Hudson <>

I broadcast a somewhat similar query to the Linguist list a year ago

got quite a useful bibliography. My query was about playground
language in general. Here's a copy of my bibliography - I hope it's
useful and I wish you success with your project. It's not a subject I
myself have done any

research on, but I can see why it's interesting.

- "Marc Armitage" <>

Have you considered adding 'End, or Tag rhyme' to your list of

relating to children's counting out rhymes.

In my experience, the standard rhyme that children add to the end of
most of the local counting out rhymes they use (ie, the end-rhyme,
which makes it harder to 'cheat' in the elimination) can be a usuful
way of estimating the geographical location of the children using it.

It would appear that children will apply their own version of the end
rhyme to any existing rhyme in use - for example, children in the Isle
of Axholme area of Lincolnshire in the UK would end the rhyme:

"Mickey Mouse built a house
How many bricks did he use?
That mean's you are not it - all god's words are true"

Wheras the same rhyme in Hull East Yorkshire would end:

"Mickey Mouse built a house
How many bricks did he use?
That mean's that you are not it for making up this stupid game"

Thing is, almost all children in the Isle use their version of the
end-rhyme, and almost all children in Hull use theirs.

Hope this is useful.

Marc Armitage, for
PLAYPEOPLE - Play Development, Education, Training & Research
'taking play seriously'

Centre 88
Saner Street
Anlaby Road

- "Catherine Walter" <>

You will find some references in

Cook, Guy. 2000. Language Play, Language Learning. Oxford: OUP.
You can find material on counting-out rhymes in New Zealand at our
for the Language in the Playgorund project,

Laurie Bauer
Professor of Linguistics
School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies
Victoria University of Wellington
PO Box 600
New Zealand
Ph: +64 4 463 5619
Fax: +64 4 463 5604

- David Gil <>
Soci�t�: MPI EVA

I did quite a bit of work on the metrics of nursery rhymes, and a few of

them qualify as counting-out rhymes. Since I'm now travelling in the
field, I don't have access to my own papers, but I suggest you check the


Stein, David and David Gil (1980) "Prosodic Structures and Prosodic
Markers", Theoretical Linguistics 7:173-240.

If my memory serves me correctly, the above article contains
counting-out rhymes in Rumanian, and Hebrew. However, if it turns out
that I'm wrong, I could perhaps dig the data up for you; I may also have

some data from Tagalog.

David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-9952321
Fax: 49-341-9952119


suite � votre demande sur LINGUIST List 13.1969, je me permets de vous
envoyer ci-joint, en annexe, un article qui vient de para�tre dans:

Restle, David/Zaefferer, Dietmar (eds.) (2002):
Sounds and Systems. Studies in Structure and Change. A Festschrift for
Theo Vennemann. (= Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 141.)
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Il est consacr� aux comptines dans la perspective de la phonologie
comparative. La petite collection de vers enfantins que vous trouverez
ne se veut pas repr�sentative - nous en sommes encore loin de ce but ! -

et n'est pas non plus restreint aux comptines num�riques.
Il s'agit plut�t d'une etude � nature exploratoire.

N�anmoins, si vous aviez d'autres sources bibliographiques, je vous
reconnaissant de me les indiquer. Le sujet semble passionnant, c'est s�r



Andreas Dufter

Dr. des. Andreas Dufter
Universit�t M�nchen
Institut f�r Romanische Philologie

- Patrizia Noel <>

together with two colleagues, Katrin Lindner and Andreas Dufter, I
recently published an article on the metrics of nursery rhymes in the
languages of the world in a festschrift for Theo Vennemann on his 65th
birthday (Mouton de Gruyter, 2002). If you cannot get hold of a copy,
I can send you the article when I come back to Munich in two weeks.

Best regards,

Patrizia Noel
Institut f�r deutsche Philologie
Schellingstr. 3
80799 M�nchen
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