LINGUIST List 5.856

Fri 29 Jul 1994

Sum: Ye gods and little fishes!, Language Games #3

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  1. mark, Ye gods and little fishes!
  2. Trey Jones, Sum: Language Games #3

Message 1: Ye gods and little fishes!

Date: Thu, 28 Jul 94 10:24:58 ESYe gods and little fishes!
From: mark <>
Subject: Ye gods and little fishes!

A few weeks ago I asked about the origin of the interjection "ye
gods and little fishes!" I received three replies; they're all
short enough to quote here in full. The first of the following
quotations is my original query.

The last respondent suggests a connection with "ye gods!" in
"The Music Man". I agree that a connection is likely, but I
feel, with no objective evidence, that the respondent has it
backwards and that the longer interjection is probably a jocular
expansion of the shorter one. My original questioner feels the

-- Mark

 Mark A. Mandel
 Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200
 320 Nevada St. : Newton, Mass. 02160, USA :

P.S.: This document was dictated with DragonDictate v3.0, Classic

>>> mark 7/7/94 10:00AM
Someone who is not on the Internet has asked about the origin of
the interjection "Ye gods and little fishes!". Her mother, who
grew up in the Midwest, used it, as does she, but it is unknown
to her children and was not used where she grew up (Connecticut).
The querent is in her early 50's.

>>> 7/12/94 9:15AM
Well, it's used (by women(?!)) on my mother's side of the family, so
that suggests that it had nonzero currency either in the northeast of
england in the 30s or before, or in north london between the 30s and the
60s, for what that's worth.

I'd have no clue as to how to analyse it, though :-).


>>> 7/16/94 11:19AM
Dear Mark: As to origins I have no idea, but it was a favorite
exclamation of both my mother (1908-93, born Boise Idaho grew up Phoenix
and Portland) and my father (1902-69, born and grew up Newark NJ). My
age is 65, and I am known occasionally to use the locution myself. Good
luck, like to know what you find out! Yours, Karl

>>> 7/18/94 9:57AM
I don't have the origin, but for what it's worth here's a pointer: one of the
characters uses the expression "Ye gods!" (repeatedly!) in Meredith Wilson's
musical, "The Music Man." Almost certainly short for the expression you're
interested in, and the midwestern setting also matches.

I'd be interested in hearing if you get anything more definitive.


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Message 2: Sum: Language Games #3

Date: Thu, 28 Jul 94 12:51:21 EDSum: Language Games #3
From: Trey Jones <treyBRS.Com>
Subject: Sum: Language Games #3

Language Game Summary #3 - The Final Posting(? - those Friday the 13th movies
went on long after the "final" one..) Happily surprised, I got some more
replies after my second summary posting.. Here are the excerpts.. Mostly
descriptions this time (which is great), fewer references..

As always, I welcome more descriptions and/or references..

Thanks to everybody! -Trey

****From: Benjamin Moore <>

Some friends of mine in high school in Seattle,Washington, had a language
called "Zambuda" which was just English pronounced wrong in every possible way.
Long vowels became short, c pronounced s when usually pronounced k, silent
letters pronounced, and so on. So a sentence like "knock before entering"
would become "kE-nOsk beh-faw-ree een-tee-rynj." (E=schwa, O=long o) Being high
school students, we mostly used it for words like "mOt-heer-foo-skeer," but
some guys got to the point where they could converse fluently in it.

****From: Peter-Arno Coppen <>

A few months ago, a Dutch television program on regional affairs had an item
about a peculiar language game that only exists amongst fishermen from the town
of IJmuiden. They called it "backward speaking" and what they did was
basically, that they reversed (almost) every syllable and sometimes entire
words. The words in the sentence remained in the same order, and I seem to
recall that some words were not reversed at all, but the older fishermen seemed
to speak it fairly fluently. The language emerged from economic causes: the
fishermen used it to communicate with each other when they were talking about
good fishing grounds, or some profitable freight they could get somewhere (or
something like that) and they didn't want other fishermen to understand.

****From: Mark Newbrook <>

Re recent Linguist List stuff on [language games]; I learned (but in the 1st
case have only partly remembered) other versions of the two
songs/poems (near Liverpool in the late 60s):

 `There was an old sailor who sat on a rock
 A-waving and shaking his bloody great
 Fist at the neighbours...'

 `I took my cousin to see an engine chunt
 A spark flew off and hit her in the
 Country girls are pretty, country girls are sick
 They take you in the meadow and fiddle with your
 Up comes a bumble-bee and stings him in the
 Ask no questions, told no lies
 I saw a policeman fiddling with his
 Flies are dangerous, fleas are worse
 That's the end of this little verse!'

One interesting point is that in Liverpool ARSE and AS(K) are NOT
homophones (ASK has a short vowel). The assumption that they ARE
homophones suggests an origin further south in England (or in North
America, where ASS is used rather than ARSE).

****From: Don Churma <>

Just had to respond to the cluster Q at the end of your message [in the game
"La" made up by the 6 year old girl] , because it comes up in the "name game",
too, and Hammond [in the article on the Name Game referenced in the previous
summary] didn't address it (I think).

This game involves replacing Cs with other Cs, which potentially can cause
phonotactic problems. (I don't play this game "natively", and I find it
almost impossible to avoid replacing entire onsets. A Pig Latin accent,
perhaps?) E.g., when you do "Fred, Fred, drop the F-o-red" and replace it
by /m/, you ought to get /mrEd/. Shirley Ellis, in the 60s song, never does
"do Fred" (arghh!), but a student in one of my intro. classes, who claimed
to have played this game as a child, said that that IS what he did!

[I replied to Don:]
> I played this game, too.. my Mom taught it to us as little kids.. there was
> never any question for us: Trey -> /bey/, /fey/, /mey/. Of course we may also
> have the same Pig-Latin influence you mention, since we are both ative-nay
> eakers-spay.

[And he wrote back:]
The rules of the "Name Game" ARE explicit in the song [my emphasis]: "if
the first two LETTERS [not onsets!] are ever the same, drop them both ..."
Thus, "drop the F-oh-red", not "F-oh-ed". You guys didn't pay attention!
(Or, are onsets heavy-duty constituents, so much so that it's hard to ignore
them and isolate individual segments/letters?)

Incidentally, what would you with, say, "Elizabeth"? It seems to me that this
is inappropriate for the game for METRICAL reasons (but I'm not a native
player). So maybe she CAN'T "make a rhyme out of anybody's name"...
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