Sunday, December 30, 2012

Five Golden Rings and ...

 I have often wondered about the origin of some of the lyrics
in the song "Twelve Days of Christmas."
 cited in yesterday's blog has some interesting information.
The origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas song
may go back to the troubadors of 13th-century France,
but later was a children's game of memory
requiring each player to recite a portion of the song correctly
or pay a forfeit of some kind.
The words were recited start to finish, then reversed 
for a total of 23 lines.

The thing I find most interesting is the process of "folk-etymology,"
which caused the original lyrics to change
over the years because people mis-heard or misunderstood them.
For example, yesterday was the 5th day of Christmas;
which most of us recognize in the refrain "five golden rings."

photo courtesy of

But the site Hymns and Carols says the original lyric was more likely
"five goldspinks," meaning goldfinches.
Another possibility for the original lyric is five gulders,
which is a name for turkeys.

This folk-etymology also affected "four calling birds,"
originally four colley birds which are blackbirds.
The lyrics "partridge in a pear tree" may result from confusion 
of the French word for partridge, perdrix "pear dree"
which sounds nearly like "pear tree" in English.

The Hymns and Carols web site also includes several different versions of the song.

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