LINGUIST List 13.2203

Sat Aug 31 2002

Sum: Counting-out Rhymes

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  • 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 22420 PLOUARED

    - DUTCH De: "Bart van der Veer" <>

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

    (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 below) 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 Antwerpen

    -FINNISH (

    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 palace'], s� vit som sn�, s� svart som d�d ['as white as snow, as black as death']. 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 genres.)

    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 most popular one: Entten tentten. The words, for the most part make as much sense 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:


    And yet another, longer version, that combines many other rhymes into one 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 ponds 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 version 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 language:

    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, becomes)

    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 that

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

    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 over 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, Fuss!

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

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

    I don't know anything about the context of use etc., but it might be worth chasing some Hungarians about it! The website's also got examples of 'battle-cries' (csataki�lt�sok). The site belongs to the 17th 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 wy-pie-przaj (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 and

    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 questions

    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? [6] 1-2-3-4-5-6 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? [6] 1-2-3-4-5-6 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 HULL HU3 2TR

    - "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 web-site for the Language in the Playgorund project, < >. Laurie

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

    - 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 Email: Webpage:


    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 dedans 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 serais 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 Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit�t Schellingstr. 3 80799 M�nchen Germany