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Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Jul 10, 2010 12:37 am

In this week’s issue of Science News I came across the expression HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY – a term I’m unfamiliar with, but which in this context seems to explain itself. And it is one of those fun expressions which tickles as it rolls off the tongue.

The article it appeared in is on the creation of artificial life titled’ Life from Scratch.’ Craig Venter’s recent accomplishment was certainly a great technical feat, which took 15 years to accomplish, but it certainly was not the creation of life. He synthesized a known genome from scratch and inserted it into a preexisting functioning bacterial cell.

The goal of ‘Life from Scratch,’ on the other hand,’ which has not yet been accomplished, is to actually create life from the elements of the primordial stew of nonliving materials that existed on earth some 3.5 billion years ago. The optimistic estimate of a team at Harvard Medical School is that they may achieve this goal in the next 2 or 3 years.
<2010 Those nucleotides hooked up into strands as more seeped inside. And, by higgledy-piggledy chance after countless similar episodes that went nowhere, some of these innards took the form of a ribozyme with the power to speed reactions, including replication.”—Science News, 3 July, page 25>
And to settle the question of the etymology of HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY, right off the bat, it is ORIGIN UNKNOWN.


HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY [1598] adverb, noun, and adjective [[A rhyming compound of obscure origin. Mainly an example of ‘vocal gesture’, the odd conformation of the word answering to the thing described; whether founded on pig, ‘with some reference to the disorderly and utterly irregular fashion in which a herd of these animals huddle together,’ is uncertain, though examples show that such an association has often been present to persons using it. If the collateral Higly-pigly were the original form, the sequence pig, pigly, higly-pigly would be not unlikely.]]

A) adverb [1598]: Without any order of position or direction; in huddled or jumbled confusion and disorder; with heads and tails in any or every direction. [[chaotic, confused, disordered, disorganized, helter-skelter, hugger-mugger, messy, jumbled, topsy-turvy, upside down, at sixes and sevens, in a muddle]]

Informal: mixed-up. Usually contemptuous.

B) noun [1659]: A confusion; a disorderly jumble.

C) adjective [1832]: Void of order or regular plan; confused, jumbled; topsy-turvy.
<1792 “The officers . . .lying higgledy piggledy on the ground with the common men.”—Miscellaneous Works (1814) by E. gibbon, I. page 366>

<1838 “Pigs, on a march, do not subject themselves to any leader among themselves, but pass on, higgledy-piggledy, without regard to age or sex.”–American Note Books (1883), by Nathaniel Hawthorne, page 187>

<1849 “I will write higglety-pigglety just as subjects occur.”—in Life & Letters (1887) by Charles Darwin, I. page 375>

<1859 “Herschel says my book ‘is the law of higgledy-piggledy.’”—Life & Letters (1887) by Charles Darwin, II. page 241>

<1883 “‘Our belongings, piled higgledy-piggledy, and upside down, about the floor.”—Silverado by Robert Louis Stevenson, page 60>

<1890 “In a higgledy-piggledy world like this it is impossible to make very nice distinctions between good luck and good work.”—Daily News ( London). 8 January, 1 March>

<1919 . . . living what certain philosophers call would call a abstract life, a life which denies the great higgledy-piggledy confusion of living beings and their tribulations.”—New York Times, 5 October, page 46>

<1942 “Mineral Point is a higgledy-piggledy place where every street is a new adventure.”—Chicago Tribune, 17 May, page F4>

<1987 “. . . artifacts can be seen higgledy-piggledy on the floor, on shelves, hanging on walls and in display cabinets.”—New York Times, 27 September>

<2003 “Russell Goodway has launched an outspoken attack on the ‘higgledy-piggledy’ development of the city's waterfront.“—South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), 4 April>

<2010 “Having someone knowledgeable on hand to give sound advice is a rarity nowadays and, whilst its higgledy-piggledy Wyle Cop premises may cast a Dickensian image, never under-estimate the quality of the buying team.”—Birmingham, Post, 24 June>
The following is a synopsis of Michael Quinion’s excellent HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY World Wide Words discussion.

Note: In many instances I do not pay too much attention to copyright and, after all, we’re a little nonprofit enterprise and we have never received any flack on this point). But I have too much respect for Quinion to flout his request, especially since he gives a very reasonable explanation of why we shouldn’t. He says he often finds new information, and updates the words and phrases on his website and doesn’t want outdated copies of his work circulating.

HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY: Words such as knick-knack and hanky-panky are reduplicative compound words. They’re paired words that differ either only in a vowel, such as dilly dally, flimflam, mish-mash, ping-pong, pish posh, pitter-patter, shipshape, and tick-tock) or a consonant such as, helter-skelter, hoity-toity, hoity-toity, lovey-dovey, okey-dokey, pell-mell, super-duper, and nitty-gritty). First recorded in 1598, it had many different forms, one of which was its contemporary higly-pigly. This suggests that the second piece may have derived from pig. The OED also mentions the possibility of (see above) “reference to the disorderly and utterly irregular fashion in which a herd of these animals huddle together.“ Others think it may come from the idea that a pig is a dirty, disorderly animal. The progression may have been from pig to pigly to highly-pigly. And then adding extra syllables forming the pleasing-sounding metrical foot. A foot may contain 2 or 3 syllables forming the basic unit of poetic rhythm – in this instance the trisyllablic metircal foot, better known as the dactyl, which is made up of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones (e.g. melody, humorous, etc.). And thus the double dactyl, HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY.

Ken G – July 9, 2010

Re: higgledy-piggledy

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:24 pm

.. Ken it is always of interest to me when I find words that are so intimate to me and yet unknown to others .. higgledy-piggledy/higglety-pigglety, has been a part of my life since I was a small child and learned ..
Higgledy, piggledy, my black hen,
She lays eggs for gentlemen;
Gentlemen come every day
To see what my black hen doth lay,
Sometimes nine and sometimes ten,
Higgledy, piggledy, my black hen.
.. Barring-Gould notes that it is sometimes rendered as hickety, pickety .. what I didn’t learn as a child was that this nursery rhyme is actually a reference to a working girl who entertained gentlemen, sometimes nine and sometimes ten with the Black Hen possibly being a reference to an Inn ..

.. another reference is contained in a charade, which is a type of word puzzle ..
Here we lie
Picked and plucked,
And put in a pie.
My first is snapping, snarling, growling,
My second’s hard-working, romping, and prowling.
Here we lie
Picked and plucked,
And put in a pie.
.. the answer by the way is cur(r) / ants ..

.. but perhaps the most famous use of higglety, piggletly is by an American , Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1793-1860), who was an ardent opponent of nursery rhymes and nearly succeeded in having them banned, along with fairy tales, from the ”more expensive nurseries of both England and America” .. in a fit of pique he declared that ”Anybody, even a child, could make one up. Listen! ..
Higglety, pigglety, pop!
The dog has eaten the mop;
The pig’s in a hurry,
The cat’s in a flurry,
Higglety, pigglety, pop!
.. but then in a perverse turn of fate this nursery rhyme became a part of several nursery rhyme collections and entered nursery rhyme literature ..

.. as to the etymology of higgedly-piggedly/higglety-pigglety/hickety-pickety I wonder whether there is any true meaning or association for these words ?? .. consider the following all taken from nursery rhymes ..
diddle dinkety, poppety, pet
Hyer idle diddle dell
Highty, tighty, paradighty
Hitty Pitty
.. is there meaning ??? .. or just some level of assonance .. or is it just mouth feel .. the joy of how a sound feels in our mouth when we hear it .. I’m not sure, are you ??? ..

Sources: The Annotated Mother Goose, WS & C Baring-Gould, 1958.
The Oxford Dictionary of Nurserry Rhymes, I & P Opie, 1992.

Wozzily wizally wazally wo
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: higgledy-piggledy

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jul 11, 2010 1:16 pm

Thanks to both of you for those interesting and entertaining postings.
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Re: higgledy-piggledy

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Mon Jul 12, 2010 12:22 am

The 'padding' words of nursery rhymes and other refrains ... with hickory dickory, hey nonny nonny, fal-a-dee, yeah yeah yeah, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, fa-ta-ta-ta-ta fa-ta-ta-ta-ta, gilly gilly ossenfeffer coming quite easily to mind ... seem usually to be metre- and humour- rather than logic-orientated.

Re: higgledy-piggledy

Post by Wizard of Oz » Tue Jul 13, 2010 7:41 am

.. there is however one variety of nursery rhyme where the gibberish does have an accepted etymology .. these are the Counting Rhymes or Counting-out Rhymes.. if anybody has an interest in mathematics and linguistics then this is an area that would appeal to them .. the rhymes that I am referring to are those rhymes that we all have, as a child, memorised a version of for deciding who is out or in for a particular game .. perhaps the most widely known in the US, UK and Australia is ..

Note: This rhyme contains the word nigger as an essential part of its history and I do not intend to change the word.
Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,
Catch a nigger by the toe,
If he squeals, let him go (UK)
(When he hollers, let him go) (US)
Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.
.. around the world there are literally thousands of these rhymes in all languages used for the same purpose .. and naturally they spawned variations used for the same purpose ..
Jeema, jeema, jima, jo;
Jickamy, jackamy, jory;
Hika, sika, pika, wo.
Jeema, jeema, jima, jo.
(Somersetshire, England)

Eena, meena, mia, mona,
Pestalona, bona, stri;
Amanootcha, papatootcha,
Rick, dick, ban, do.
(Hartford, Conn.)
.. and because I know we have those who call NY home and I am sure Ken will remember this from his childhood days as Opie quotes this as being ”from 130 years ago.” .. no sorry Ken even you are not that old ..
Ene, tene, mone, mei.
Pastor, lone, bone, strei,
Ene, fune, herke, berke,
Wer? Wie? Wo? Was?
.. do I detect a touch of German or Yiddish in there Ken ?? .. and of course the kids Downunder were not to be outdone ..
Ena, deena, dina, dus,
Catala, weena, wina, wus,
A way flour flock,
Allago, pallago, we, wo, wis.
(Central Victoria, 1875)
.. other Counting Rhymes contain a whole range of words .. however in the case of English there is a common ancestor in the Anglo-Cymric Score (AJ Ellis, 1877) .. this is a method of counting such that 5, 10, 15 and 20, one score, are accented before returning to 1 again .. this method is cited as being traditionally used ”not only for counting sheep but in games of different sorts, knitting, fishing and in counting the goods in warehouses.” .. there has even been research to suggest that the Druids used these counting methods to choose human sacrifices .. so what do these early counting systems look like ?? ..
Counting to ten and then 15>>
Keswick: yan tyan tethera methera pimp sethera lethera hovera dovera dick bumfit.
Westmorland: yan tyan tetherie peddera gip teezie mithy katra hornie dick bumfit.
Eskdale: yaena taena teddera meddera pimp hofa lofa seckera leckera dec bumfit.
Millom: aina peina para pedera pimp ithy mithy owera lowera dig bumfit.
High Furness. yan taen tedderte medderte pimp haata slaata lowera dowra dick mimph
Wasdale: yan taen tudder anudder nimph
Teesdale: yan tean tetherma metherma pip lezar azar catrah horna dick bumfit
Swaledale. yahn tayhn tether mether mimp(h) hith-her lith-her anver danver dic mimphit
Wensleydale: yan tean tither mither pip teaser leaser catra horna dick bumper
Ayrshire: yinty tinty tetheri metheri bamf leetera seetera over dover dik
.. when all seen together in this way it is easy to see where children’s counting rhymes evolved from .. as oral tradition spread the words wider and wider and then to the Colonies it is easy to see how fading memories and tongue twisters shaped new rhyming words ..

.. this spread to America gave rise to one of the great early folk etymologies and that is Indian Counting .. as the counting continued but the history was lost, or in some cases never known, people looked for an etymology and this gave rise to the claim that these words were in fact taken from native American tribes .. in 1946 Carl Withers published the following as being from a native American language ..
Eeen, teen, fether, fip,
Sather, lather, gother, dather, dix.
.. do they have a familiar ring ?? .. this etymology has since been discredited by studies of the real native American counting systems .. but research continues and I did find reference to an Afro-Creole origin for Eena Meena Mina Mo .. (unfortunately I was unable to access the document as costs were involved) ..

.. personally I find this whole area very interesting and hope that I have provided something of interest for other WW readers even though I have only touched the surface ..

WoZ on countdown

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, I & O Opie, 1992.
The Annotated Mother Goose, WS & C Baring-Gould, 1962.
Cinderella Dressed in Yella, Turner, Factor & Lowenstein, 1978.
Te deu wid sheep (Counting Sheep), Ted Relph, 2007.
The Counting-Out Rhymes of Children - Their Antiquity, Origin, and Wide Distribution, Henry Carrington Bolton, on-line @ Google books.
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

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