Counting-out Rhymes and a Gypsy Magic Spell

imageI’ve recently been asked about a counting-out rhyme chanted in Indiana.  This rhyme may have its origins in an old Gypsy magic spell.

Marsha wrote to me about the rhyme that was chanted by her grandmother:

“I’ve been trying to find the source of a chant my grandmother taught me.  My mother (who is 86) has some memory of it but doesn’t know where it came from.  My grandmother came from southern Indiana and had mostly English ancestry.  Since I’ve never seen it written, I can only write it as I remember hearing it.  Can you help me?  I can not find anyone who has heard this.”

Eenie, rorie, rickry Ann
Filosy, falosy, Nicholas, John.
Kreevy, kravy, English Navy
Stinklum, stanklum, buck.

-Marsha Marcuson

There are many variations of this rhyme that can be found from long ago.  Harry Bolton wrote in his book, “The Counting-out Rhymes of Children” (1888), that these rhymes had their origins in a magical spell in a Romany language of the gypsies:

We have referred to a single case in which a current doggerel has been traced to its source—a magical spell; the following rhyme, notable for its senseless combination of uncouth words and jingling rhythm, is well known to most adults and many children in the United States, especially in New England.

One-ery, two-ery, ickery, Ann;
Fillicy, fallacy, Nicholas John;
Queever, quaver, Irish Mary,
Stinclum, stanclum, buck.

On the authority of Mr. Charles G. Leland, author of several works on the gypsies and their language, the above rhyme differs little from a Romany stanza, which is virtually a gypsy magic spell. The Romany is as follows :—

‘Ekkeri, akai-ri, you kair-an,
Fillisin, follasy, Nicholas ja’n;
Kivi, kavi, Irishman,
Stini, stani, buck.

This is chiefly nonsense, but can be translated in part:—

First—here—you begin
Castle—gloves. You don’t play. Go on.
Kivi, kettle, How are you?

Leland remarks that "Ekkeri, akai-ri" literally translated gives the familiar "One-ery, two-ery" and this is etymologically analogous to "Hickory, dickory" in the nursery rhyme…

Here’s a “One-ery, two-ery” rhyme from Bolton’s book that’s more similar to Marsha’s rhyme:

One-ery, two-ery, ickery, Ann,
Fillison, follison, Nicholas John;
Quevy, quavy, English navy,
Stincktum, stancktum, buck!

(Index., Tex., Mo., Ia., Kan.)

Here’s another that I think comes even closer to the sound in Marsha’s rhyme:

Ery, iry, ickery, Ann,
Fillisy, follosy, Nicholas John;
Quevy, quavy, English navy,
Stinkulum, stankulum, buck!

Hartford, 1860.

Whether or not these rhymes really come from an old gypsy spell seems dubious…  Either way, they’ve been used by children as counting-out rhymes in many, many variations over the past couple of centuries.  That makes them intriguing enough in their own right!

-Mama Lisa 

Painting: Van Gogh’s “The Caravans – Gypsy Camp near Arles”

This article was posted on Thursday, April 12th, 2012 at 8:57 am and is filed under Counting-out Rhymes, Counting-out Rhymes, Countries & Cultures, Folk Lore, Gypsy Magic Spells, Languages, Nursery Rhymes, Rhymes by Theme, Romani, Romany, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “Counting-out Rhymes and a Gypsy Magic Spell”

  1. Marsha Marcuson Says:

    This is great! I thought my chances of finding this were pretty slim considering I had no idea of the spelling and hadn’t heard it since I was a child. Thank you.

  2. Yvonne Says:

    this is the way I learned them before I knew my A B C’s

    Erie- Irie – orie – inkery – ann – Philisy – follisy – quinkles – John – quiver – quaver – english – naver – stinklm – stanklum – buck.

    I was told these were the names os dogs? my aunt taught all nine of us kids these names , I learned them when I was five years 1947″ i have remembered them all my life, infact my sister just sent this web sight of yours to me, I couldn’t believe it? my sister knows them as the rest of our family, have a wonderful day and may God bless you with everything good, sincerely Yvonne

  3. yvonne Says:

    I’m going to try it again, don’t know if I did it right the first time

    Errie – Irrie – orrie – inkre – ann – philisy – follisy – Quinkless – John – queever –

    Quaver – English – Naver – stinklum – stanklum – and Buck.

    o.k . that’s how I remember them.

    I think they are dog names ?

  4. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for writing Yvonne! That’s interesting that you were told they were dog names. I’ve never heard that before. -Mama Lisa

  5. Monica Nicholls Says:

    I-shy moo-shy
    One-a-dick two-a-dick
    Bumpshy batter-pick
    Hang twang shiverty shang
    shiverty shelly-cock
    Darty twit.

    Recited by my mother who must have heard it early 20th century (born 1912) and she claimed it was gypsy (romany) counting. Never seen it written but this is how it sounds. This is from the villages surrounding the town of Braintree, North Essex, UK.

  6. Atharina Says:

    Frank Herbert, in his amazing masterpiece “Dune”, employs this chant as a water chant by the priestess Chani on behalf of her future mate Paul Muad’dib. He describes it as the hunting language Chakobsa.

  7. Carl Williams Says:

    My oldest sister (age 92) says she keeps thinking of a rhyme our mother (deceased) said a lot when she was hospitalized; I can also recall our mother reciting the nonsense rhyme. We remember it something like this:

    Eerie, orrie, ackery Ann
    Filus and Folus, Nicholas John;
    Qweevy, qwavy, English Navy,
    Stinctum, stanctum, Buck.

  8. Matt Says:

    The variation on this that I heard as a kid in South West England had the last line as ‘Ziglum Zaglum Bolun Bun’. I have forgotten the first lines but there is a Romany translation for some of these words and its a spell or hex in its entirety and in the original language.

  9. Laurence McMurrin Hilton Says:

    My father, born in 1896, learned this from his grandmother, who immigrated from Scotland in 1866 and her parents were both born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The rhyme was sung or chanted to the rhythm of a little child being bounced harder and harder on your knee while seated. It was a ‘bucking horsie ride’ and ends with the child being bucked off on the shouted word “buck”:
    Onerie, oarie, ickerie-Ann
    Filasie, fall-acie , Nicholas John,
    Queever, quaver, English Naver,
    Strinklum, stranklum,
    You – bee! – Baa!! – BUCK!!!
    Off goes (name)!

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