Michel Vuijlsteke's weblog

Tales of Drudgery & Boredom.


Om de zoveel tijd schuim ik het internet af om te zien wat de laatste internetconsensus is over de etymologie van aftelrijmpjes. Of, meer specifiek, de etymologie van de telwoordachtige dingetjes in het begin:

Am stram gram
Pique et pique et colégram

in ’t frans (dat van ein, zwei, drei zou komen, of van “Am-ster-dam”, maar zeker zijn ze er niet van), of nog

enyky, benyky, kliky, bé / ábr, fábr, domine (Tsjechisch)
eden, beden, cincime, aber, faber, domine (Slovaaks)
Ink-a-Bink // a bottle of ink
Inky pinky parlez-vous

en vooral dan

eenie meenie [miney] moe (engels)
iene miene mutten (nederlands)
eene mene mu (duits)

Die drie zouden, zeggen sommige mensen, een overblijfsel zijn van één, twee, drie in de één of andere pre-keltische taal (volgens Bill Bryson: based on a counting system that predates the Roman occupation of Britain […] may even be pre-Celtic) . Anderen zeggen dat het gewoon verbasteringen zijn van een, twee, drie in een germaanse taal. Maar eigenlijk weten ze het niet.

..en dan heb je goeie ouwe Bernhard Münzer:

The truth, however, is more universal and more profound: the simple rhyme reflects the implications and limitations of the concept of counting and numbers.

The first word, “eene”, can clearly be traced to the word “one” in old Germanic languages. This refers to the concept of using numbers for counting purposes; a theme which will reappear in several variations throughout the poem. The use of the female gender is an indication that it may be an old incantation from ancient, matriarchic ages.

The second word, “mene”, uses the hebrew word for weighing to indicate the concept of real numbers, in which the integers are embedded. This allusion to biblical references is not to be taken lightly. It forebodes the ultimate failure of trying to get over the problems intrinsic to the numbering concept by extending it to real numbers.

The key to the interpretation of the whole poem is the third word, “mu”. This zen word clearly refutes the assumption that all questions are to be decidable.

The rest of the rhyme elaborates on the counting motif presented in the first line. It is crucial to note that both name and age of the kids involved in the game are used for counting, with the result being the pointer to yet another kid. These nested self-referencesare the definite proof what the poem is all about:

This little children’s counting rhyme is nothing less than an archaic version of Goedel’s theorem.

1 Comment

  1. Hello, Michel!

    since a long time I have a hunch, some of my russian games counting rhyme has an origin in latin:

    Eni, beni, liqui, paki/
    bul-bul-bul, kaliqui, šwaki,/
    Deus, deus, kosmodeus,/

    And one more:

    Equete, bequete, čuquete me,/
    Abel, fabel, Domine,
    iqui, piqui, grammatiki,
    Samyj glavnyj ((rus.)=is most important)
    Tuz! ((rus.)= As (in card game))

    Best regards,
    Ilja Muromez

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