A correspondent writes, apropos of teaching kids songs like “Frere Jacques” and “Alouette”:

The latter (Alouette) is bringing back memories: specifically, I recall vaguely from my childhood in l’Acadie that speakers of Quebecois French would often end a long list with “alouette, alouette” (which is how the verse ends, after a long list of the parts of the bird that the singer plans to pluck), as a humorous way of saying “well, that was a long list, wasn’t it?” In this respect, the phrase “alouette, alouette” could be considered the Quebecois French equivalent of “and a partridge in a pear tree,” which you hear used in English for exactly the same thing, and which has its origins in a similarly structured counting-rhyme.
In our house, the Aramaic phrase “chad gadya, chad gadya” (“one little goat, one little goat”) often serves the same function. It comes from the Passover song of the same name, and it holds the same position in the song as the phrases “alouette, alouette” and “and a partridge in a pear tree,” i.e., that of last term in a long list of counted items; but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone else do this, in English or Hebrew, so I don’t know whether it constitutes a third example. I suppose it would be too much to ask for there to be other counting-rhymes in other languages which have given rise to similar phrases – but maybe you could poll the LH readership to see, assuming you think it’s an interesting question too?

I do, and I welcome all contributions.


  1. marie-lucie says:

    Where did the writer grow up? People in l’Acadie do not speak Québécois, they speak local varieties of Acadian French.

  2. The writer was probably using “Quebecois” loosely.

  3. Why can’t he mean what he says? He says that when he was growing up in Acadia, he heard speakers of Quebec French, not his own Acadian French, use that expression. If this were an Acadian expression, he most probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all.
    (I tried rewriting this in singular they, but it doesn’t work for me because the writer is definite rather than indefinite, so I either go with (s)he or pick a gender.)

  4. Actually, the author is a she; I think I used to have the same qualms about definite they, but they’ve eroded over the years.

  5. dearieme says:

    When a child has been excitedly listing things, you can say “Old Macdonald had a farm…”.

  6. And now that I think about it, I suspect you’re right—she probably did mean what she wrote.

  7. mollymooly says:

    This is jocularly capping a closed list, as opposed to indicating an open list (“etc.”, “and so forth”, “patati patata”, “yadda yadda”, “der-de-der”, “tutti quanti”, etc.)
    For lists of people, the terminator is “Uncle Tom Cobley [and all]”.
    For lists of titles, it’s “Lord High Everything Else”.
    Slightly different:
    – that lived in the house that Jack built
    – hence the pyramids

  8. xiaolongnu says:

    Sorry, LH, you are giving me too much credit. I am the original writer, and I must apologize to marie-lucie; I am not a speaker of any kind of French, and I am afraid I was using the term too loosely for strict accuracy. I grew up in northern Maine, but not in the St. John river valley – rather, in an area of the north woods where speakers of the local variety of French (which we Anglophones always thought of as Quebecois in distinction to the “Parisian” French taught in schools) were a significant minority. I should point out that I remember hearing “alouette, alouette” at the end of lists in English, but in my memory the people who did this were from French-speaking families. I can’t speak to their individual mastery of French nor to what specific variety of French they spoke, if they did. It was a long time ago. I am sorry for the vagueness, and also for conflating varieties of French which probably should be distinguished.
    Thank you, mollymooly, for your examples: this is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of. Where does “hence the pyramids” come from?

  9. Yes, Chad Gadya is quite used in a similar sense (in Israel), that is after telling a long story with lots of plot shifts between different agents.
    Its Passover-haggadah neighbor, “Ve-echad eloheinu” (And One Is Our Lord) is a more exact correlate to the partridge on the pear tree, and very popular in the post-long-list position. Just listen to Yossi Banay (Z”L) end verses with it over and over in his “Inventory” (Sfirat Mlay, lyrics by him and tune by Naomi Shemer):

  10. mollymooly says:

    Where does “hence the pyramids” come from?
    Partridge says

    This cp is either applied to an unintentional non sequitur or deliberately said as an ironically joc. non sequitur: late C19–20, but not much used since WW2. Ex the very rude, very droll recitation entitled ‘The Showman’, in which occurs the passage, “I will now show you the camel. This peculiar animal eats mud. shits bricks, and has a triangular arse-hole. Hence the Pyramids.

    I’m not convinced the joke is the origin of the expression. It would be funnier as a co-option a pre-existing catchphrase.

  11. Heh. Checking Google Books, I thought I’d struck gold with “Hence, the pyramids!” in The Council of Seven (1921) by John Collis Snaith, but in context (top of p. 257) it seems to mean “away with the pyramids!”

    The Millennium was surely coming, all the morning and evening journals said so, but in the meantime life for the ordinary ratepayer was growing impossible. Yet, said the noble army of Cat-Jumpers, with Blackhampton East now before their eyes, the hour of deliverance is near. Hence, the Anti-Trust Law! Hence, Down with the U.P.! Hence, the pyramids!

  12. And Kenneth Burke has the canonical joke in Language As Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method, page 325:

    On the contrary, “logic” is made comically, Aristophanically supreme in the vulgar lines about “the fabulous bird that eats sand and ———s bricks, and hence the pyramids.” It is one of the most “efficient” démarches in the lore of expressiveness — and we had it in mind, as authoritative corroboration of our motion that the Egyptian pyramids are “mighty stylized replicas of the dung-pile” (see p. 832 of A Grammar of Motives and a Rhetoric of Motives, combined in Meridian paperback edition).

  13. Mais oui!

  14. I’m sure I’ve linked to this Norwegian pedestrian-crossing roadsign before, but I love it so much. It’s meant to be literal and realistic, but it ends up leaving so much to the imagination. There are very few left; they made them gender-neutral by removing the hat (I’d have preferred that they’d added a skirt).

  15. Bathrobe says:

    I’m one of those literally minded people who only see what is meant to be seen. What is left to the imagination?

  16. What is left to the imagination?
    Everything that you don’t see. As one gets older and bolder, one finds that even what one sees is seen in the imagination. I daresay you’re only imagining that you “only see what is meant to be seen”.

  17. Etienne says:

    Xiaolongnu: actually, your confusion as to what kind of French you heard in your childhood is understandable, as I suspect that the variety you heard was “Brayon” or “Madawaska” French, which is basically a Quebec French/Acadian French dialect mixture (the fact that its speakers often do not consider themselves Acadian sometimes leads to its being considered a separate variety altogether).
    Using “Alouette” to finish off a list is something which is common in Quebec French, incidentally, although I must say I have never heard it so used in English.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: Several years ago I heard a talk on dialectal varieties of Canadian French in which I first encountered the word Brayon (referring to both the speech and the ethnic group) and speculations about its origin. Apparently many locals relate it to the verb form “(nous) broyons” ‘(we) are grinding’ (eg grinding colours for dyeing), and there were other theories that I don’t remember, but I thought it might have something to do with the possible origin of some early settlers in the Pays de Bray which is a region in the province of Normandie. I don’t remember what the conclusions were, but perhaps you know more about the word.
    Alouette: although the song is widely known in France, I have never heard the alouette, alouette part of the song used in other contexts.

  19. I’ve been trying to think of a Yiddish equivalent, with no luck (as far as I know, chad gadyo doesn’t mean this in Yiddish; interestingly, though, it is a slang word for jail, based on a clever but awful pun). The closest thing I can think of is “lokshn, boydem, tsibeles” (noodles, attic, onions), which is used to imply that a list of things doesn’t really cohere.

  20. i can’t recall a children’s song which could be used as conclusion of an extensive list
    but we have an expression said about a little kid who is always busy and moving too energetically doing some meaningful only to him/her activities as “chavgantsyn dalan doloon ajil xiix” – running old woman’s seventy seven errands
    or if one is too talkative and as if like over-sharing one would say “dalan bulchirxaigaa toolox” – counting one’s seventy glands(lymph nodes)
    and one more saying goes like “dalan chavgantz uraldaad neg n turuulne”, about any kind of competition, seventy old women would compete, one will be a winner, it is said popularly about elections, for example
    chavgants sounds pretty endearing in there, though for people not accustomed to the saying it would sound as if like ageist/misogynistic, perhaps

  21. John Emerson says:

    A standard Chinese term for “etc. etc.” (as far as I know, not slang) is yun yun. This phrase appears in the Daodejing, chapter 16, in a phrase translatable as “the myriad creatures are teeming”, with yun yun being “teeming”. (The graph used can also mean “cloud cloud”.
    Sorry, no Chinese characters on this computer.
    This is one of the messiest chapters in the DDJ, with about 15 significant variants in 30 words. So YMMV if you loo0k it up.

  22. Would that be 雲雲?

  23. John Emerson says:

    Can’t read it! But the phonetic shared by all variants is, by itself, the “etc.” word. With the “rain” classifier above it means “clouds”. With the “grass” classifier above it it means “teeming”. And there are other variants; the bare classifier can stand for either of the other two. The DDJ is a textual mess, which is fun if you have the time.
    Chinese writing is hard enough, but prestandardization it’s an utter zoo.

  24. xiaolongnu says:

    Ah, finally, two languages I do know well – ancient and modern Chinese! So the phrase John is referring to is 云云, not 雲雲. They do not mean the same thing in classical Chinese (for the most part; John’s right about there always being some variants in writing and usage, especially in pre-Qin texts). But in singular usage, even as early as the Daodejing, yun 云 means “say.” Yun 云 and yue 曰 have a similar function in texts of this period; if memory serves, yue 曰 indicates a direct quotation and yun 云 an indirect quote or paraphrase (but don’t, uh, quote me on that). By contrast, yun 雲 means cloud. After the Qin, the two graphs only really get conflated in the simplification process in the 20th century. I wonder if the usage of yun yun 云云 for “etc.” really derives from that very early usage to mean “teeming” (as a herd of animals or a swirl of cloud) – it seems more likely to derive from the use of yun 云 to mean “say” – in which case maybe yun yun 云云 is classical Chinese for “yadda yadda?”
    I will say that I have never heard “yun yun” 云云 used in spoken language, nor seen it in contemporary written language (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it there, especially if the writer was trying to be classicizing). The spoken equivalent is “deng deng” 等等 which is a riff on the usage of deng 等 to mean “degree, rank,” so the implication of deng deng is “and all sorts/ranks/kinds” of whatever.

  25. Bathrobe says:

    Not used in spoken Chinese, but I believe I’ve heard it used in Japanese.

  26. i recall in japanese etc. is nado or nado nado, in hiragana, never heard deng deng

  27. but the kanji is the same with deng, google translate says
    等, エトセトラ

  28. Bathrobe says:

    I meant 云云 (うんぬん).

  29. Bathrobe says:

    等等 is read tōtō (although nado nado is ok, too).

  30. what is baz? google translate gives me that for unmen

  31. marie-lucie says:

    I just remembered that there is a French phrase used in the same contexts: et tout et tout (lit. ‘and everything and everything’), which seems to be equivalent to ‘and so on and so forth’. But it does not have a specific origin like the Canadian alouette, alouette.
    In rural Western France and in Canada there is a word itou meaning ‘also’, and I wonder if it was originally et tout. The TLFI gives it as coming from à tout ‘with everything’, and it also quotes a feminine plural form itotes (would now be “itoutes”). But the change of /a/ to /i/ is a bigger jump than from /e/ to /i/. Perhaps Etienne détient la clé du mystère!

  32. John Emerson says:

    Before the evil burning of the books, anything can mean anything. Reading the scholarship on the Guodian Daodejing (about 300 BC) is a wild ride. “Wei” = “hua” = “yi”, which makes more sense with the original phonetic values, but is still crazy. “Dao”, or maybe “zhuang”. Etc.
    Can’t remember where I picked up thye “yun yun” idea. Call it an urban legend. My modern Chinese is a bit weak.

  33. Bathrobe says:

    That is unnun, read.

  34. a so? me-nu, already forgot, huh
    so it means so on so forth, thanks
    baz they say someone/something weird, out of place, unusual

  35. John Emerson says:

    I looked it up, and yun yun is in both my mainland and my Taiwan dictionary. It may be that it’s not oral and is used in a fairly formal scholarly register.

  36. Etienne says:

    Marie-Lucie: I know little more about ITOU than what you wrote. I too would have guessed that its etymon is “et tout”. I can tell you that it is never used at the end of a list with the meaning “and so on”: its meaning is indeed simply “also, as well”.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    Indeed, itou by itself means ‘also, as well’. It is the reduplicated et tout et tout which seems to me to mean ‘and so on’. People who say et tout et tout don’t necessarily use itou as well, since that is considered a regional, rural form.

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