Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for April, 2017

Thon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 20, 2017

In an effort to be politically correct and gender sensitive, government departments, agencies, organizations, businesses, and schools are trying to agree on a gender neutral pronoun that’s acceptable to everyone.   Some have considered using zie, sie, se, xe, ey, ve, tey, e, and hir while others have rejected those options as being awkward and contrived.  Others have suggested going with they, their, and them while others argue those options are too impersonal.  The dilemma is one that no other generation has ever faced.  Or is it?

What about the word thon?

The word thon is chiefly Scottish and is a mish-mosh of this and that with the pronoun yon.  It was most popular in the 1700s and 1800s, and although it made its way into the Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary in 1903, it was removed sixty years later … mostly because no one bothered to use it.

SIDE NOTE 1:  The gender neutral pronoun ou can be traced back to the 14th century as used by Cornish writer and translator John Trevisa (1326 – 1402).

SIDE NOTE 2:  John Trevisa is the 18th most frequently cited author in the Oxford English Dictionary, and cited as the source for evidence of a word after Geoffrey Chaucer and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

SIDE NOTE 3:  The pronoun she first appeared in the mid-12th century to reduce the confusion and ambiguity of the gender neutral pronoun system that was used in English at the time.

In 1894, the word — and a variation therein — was used by Henry Graham Williams (1865 – date of death unknown) in his book, “Outlines of Psychology Designed for Use in Teachers Classes, Normal Schools, and institutes, and as a Guide for All Students of Applied Psychology.

Every student should acquaint thonself with some method by which thon can positively correlate the facts of thons knowledge.

In 1884, American attorney and composer of church music, Charles Crozat Converse (October 7, 1832 – October 18, 1918) wrote in a letter published in the August 2, 1884 edition of “The Critic and Good Literature” that a gender neutral pronoun should be used and that thon was such a pronoun (a word he lay claim to having created in 1858).

It was, according to Mr. Converse arrived at by “cutting off the last two letters of the English word that, and the last letter of the word one, and uniting their remaining letters in their original sequence in these two words” thereby producing the word thon.  The purpose of the pronoun was to bring equality to situations where stating a gender was to give one gender more respect than the other.  In his explanation, he wrote:

Use of it will so individualize and pronominalize (so to speak) this word as to show its manifest grammatical distinction from the words that and one of which it is born; and the mental process by which it leads its user to the noun it represents will, I think, be found to be easy and natural, it not being an arbitrary sign.

Oddly enough in a Letter to the Editor submitted to, and printed by, The New York Times on October 19, 1905, the history of the word thon was outed as having been in use thirty years before the Charles Crozat Converse lay claim to creating it.

So while people today are busy congratulating themselves on being gender sensitive and incredibly progressive in their thinking, the fact of the matter is that long before the term transgender or gender fluid was part of our language, people had a gender neutral pronoun.  It just never quite caught on.

Idiomation pegs this word to around 1825 based on The New York Times Letter to the Editor with a nice nod to Charles Crozat Converse in the process.  Isn’t it interesting to learn that the more things change, the more things stay the same … or revert to a much earlier time in history?

Posted in Idioms from the 12th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 18, 2017

At the start of the year, there was an uproar over The Walking Dead t-shirt carrying the slogan eeny, meeny, miney, moe on the front.  The balance of the children’s rhyme was implied and not stated, however fans of The Walking Dead know the character called Negan who spoke the rhyme on the series ends the rhyme with, “Catch a tiger by the toe.”

The t-shirt was pulled from store shelves by Primark after someone objected to the item being available for purchase on the basis that it was racist.  It wasn’t long before others on social media followed suit in support of the man’s claim.

SIDE NOTE 1:  At one time in the 20th century, Brazil nuts were marketed as n*gger toes.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Fans of The Walking Dead state that Negan is a ruthless sadistic killer who doesn’t discriminate against anyone.  Apparently he has not conscience and as such isn’t inclined to kill one person more than another.  If he can kill someone  – regardless of culture or race or gender or zombie status  — he does.

SIDE NOTE 3:  For interest’s sake, Primark has 177 stores in the UK, 37 in Ireland, varying numbers in many European countries, and 7 in the U.S.

In Salman Rushdie’s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” published in 1995, the main character and his three sisters are nicknamed Ina, Minnie, Mynah and Moor.  No one filed a complaint with the publisher of the book, and no one complained to the media about any potential racist overtones to the four nicknames used in the book.

Interestingly enough, on March 23, 1990 the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strip dealt with the rhyme.  Hobbes was lying on the floor when Calvin started playing with Hobbes’ toes saying, “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe.”  Hobbes opened an eye to see what Calvin was up to as Calvin continued by saying “if he hollers..”   Hobbes got up and glared at Calvin. The last panel showed Calvin walking off, scuffed up, and asking, “Who writes these dumb things anyway?”

The rhyme was also found in Rudyard Kipling’s “A Counting-Out Song“, from Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, published in 1935.

When the scholarly journal Notes and Queries published the counting rhyme in their February 1855 edition, it read as follows with a brief explanation of how the rhyme was to be used.

The following are used in the United States for the selection of a tagger.

Eeny, meeny, moany, mite,
Butter, lather, boney, strike,
Hair, bit, frost, neck,
Harrico, barrico, we, wo, wack.

Meanwhile, in England, children were still singing:

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe
Catch a tinker by the toe.
If he hollers let me go,
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.

This same rhyme with its variations exists in other cultures as well.  In France children chant this instead.

Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Matricaire et matico,
Mets la main derrière ton dos.

TRANSLATION:
Une, mine, mane, mo,
Une, fine, fane, fo,
Chamomile and pepper plant,
Put your hand behind your back
.

The Dutch recite the same rhyme this way.

Iene miene mutte
Tien pond grutten
Tien pond kaas
Iene miene mutte
Is de baas.

TRANSLATION:
Eena meena
mutte

Ten pounds of groats
Ten pounds of cheese
Eena meena mutte
Is the boss.

The Cornish in England had an old shepherd’s count known as a shepherd’s score that goes like this.

Ena, mena, mona, mite,
Bascalora, bora, bite,
Hugga, bucca, bau,
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread.
Stick, stock, stone dead – OUT.

Interestingly enough, American historian, chemist, and bibliographer of science Henry Carrington Bolton (29 January 1843- 19 November 1903) published a collection of children’s counting rhymes in 1888.  In his book, he included fifty variations of the counting rhyme which included many different specimens being caught by the toe or the tail or even by their thumb!  Some of those variations dated back to Britain and the early 1700s with implications that the rhyme was older than that.

So what is the origin of eeny meeny miney moe?  No one really seems to know for sure past everyone agreeing that it’s a counting rhyme.  It’s been around for a long time and it’s found in a great many cultures.

Is it racist?  It all depends on who or what you’re catching, and how you catch that person or thing.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »