Tweedle Dee and, yes, Susan, perhaps Dum.

Tweed-all, or all the tweeds are or is the plural of tweed and tweed is also a river. What luck! It enables us to locate geographically a parent of our famous quarrellers on a real world map, close to the River Tweed. It’s a bonnie river that starts in Scotland and flows southish west until it becomes part of the border between Scotland and England before emptying into the North Sea. May its waters be ever sweet: pollution free, beautiful to view and life sustaining, fish plentiful in the waters, wildlife abundant in its valleys.

But we’re dealing with two tweedles here: dum and dee. Dee’s well, look now, well, would you look at that, another river, or hang on, it’s two! Well, feicim e! (Excuse me if I sometimes lapse into my beloved Gaelic). One’s mostly in Wales in the north and west forming bits of the border between Wales an England with a bit going over into England and it empties into the Irish sea via a large estuary, and the other is wholly in Scotland emptying into the sea at Aberdeen. Aber is Cornish for river mouth, and cognate with the English Harbour, so the Deen of Aberdeen is a kind of genitive or adjectivalisation of Dee. It denotes a Port in Cornish, the mouth of a much-used river.

But Dundee, or Dee-Town, is situated way down south on the banks of the Tay. Get out your Atlas, Wayne, and have a look.

While you’re there, check out Tees and Teesdale. My whiskers bristle just thinking about ‘em. You see, one of the major languages once spoken in this area was, as we well know, a so-called ‘Brythonic’ language, that is, a close relation of Welsh and Cornish. In Brythonic, among the initial letter mutations that characterise them, we see the t transmuted to d in certain grammatical situations. That couldn’t happen at all if there were no tendency to pronounce t as d, to which the speakers might yield at last under certain kinds of logistical pressure. It’s the Moor in them, and there’s evidence of their having sometimes also inter-married with Turks and with Indians. In the Brythonic languages the logistics that apply that pressure seem to be within the grammar of the language itself.

Here, about the Border lands, where the language is no longer spoken but the descendents of the people who spoke it are still contributing to the gene pool, the guilty logistics have been shifted, shuffled off unceremoniously into the cultural psyche to manifest with morose devil-may-care in the readily penetrated disguise of a geographically determined diversity, or what might pass for one if you didn’t know what cussedness of human personality and repressed bitterness in the submerged psyche determines the distribution of such manifestations. Ts become ds. Tee in the self-confident south of the tea country is Dee in the given-their-come-uppance north. Ty, Tay, Tyburn etc – they’ve even gone and wallowed about the vowel, haven’t they, the irresponsible urchins!

Now if tweed is a type of woollen cloth, what is tee, dee, tay, or ty, English and at home in the North where Brythonic speakers once spoke? Arnold? Maryjane? Yes, Elspeth? That’s right – tea. What sort of tea? I don’t know. I know that tisane is ti + ane, and that ane = -anna (Irish plural ending) and any (English word) so that tisane means teas-any, and any here probably means -any sort, and indeed in France and Blegium it still does. It’s only in England that the choice narrowed so dramatically to the one imported from the orient. What range or array of teas had they there? I, Herman Newt, do solemnly declare that it’sa pound or even two to a sardine and that quite a small skinny one that it was a developed industry here once, and teas were being exported.

No Phillipa, I don’t believe that Underzo and whatsisface, in Asterix the Gaul in Britain had hit it on the head when they said that before the Dutch East India company and the British Raj the Poms stopped everything at four o’clock for a cup of plain hot water. There’s scattered evidence of tea-drinking before the arrival of the Romans but I won’t go into it now. And yes, Sally, of course: te is Irish for hot, teas is Irish for heat, and deas is Irish for nice and also for south. In a cold country, nice and warm tend to become synonymous.

It’s enough to know that there are some small hints that there was a tea industry in the North of England and the south of Scotland (although I’ll say now that it’s a chastened people that would mutate tea to dee, curtseyers, I’ll warrant, and curtseys go with frills, don’t you know, even on their pinnies, would you believe it! Places like that, Timothy becomes dimity and there’s your curtains. By god, that’s tea you’d be drinking in a place like that.

I’m thinking that it’s Dee would be curtseying to Tweedle, not Tweedle to Dee, but not necessarily in this instance. Thank you Darlene. Rosemary, Raspberry leaf, rose petal and violet. I’ll have the raspberry leaf, please, and strawberry jam and cream with me scones. Ta.

It’s likely that Tweedle and Dee were the parents of Tweedle-Dee. That’s how it works with double-barrel names, isn’t it? Mr Tweedle and Ms Dee or Ms Tweedle and Mr Dee? He wouldn’t curtsey, would he? Would Ms Tweedle? I can’t see it. Which was which?

That’s not necessarily going to be easy to ascertain until we’ve examined the marriage customs of back then. Back when, Oscar? Hmmm. Perhaps that too, must await further data which, who knows, we may be able to dig up along with the dirt on Dum.

Next week, Gregory, and Jason and that other galoot who was also flicking wet goo off the end of his ruler at Katherine and Mandy, I’ll see you outside after the bell goes. Two lumps please, Darlene…

Hallo. Herman Newt is my name. I hermaneut.

Today I would like to hermaneut ‘Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’, which has come down to us as a nursery rhyme from we know not where or when but might be able to educate our guesses re which, if we stay true to the rules of sound hermeneutics as we discover (as distinct from invent) them.

Hmmm, hmmmm! Allow me to clear my throat before I go on. Hermeneutical tasks tend to be daunting and I’m a fairly dauntable beast. The undauntable ones are the ones fahking it up. I spell fahking like that to distinguish it distinctly and absolutely from the word that rhymes with ducking and is too rude to say. Fahking is the same word as faking, but both words have undergone a semantic shift over the years. Both relate to making. That’s what it means when I say it and, I venture to opine, when most people say it, allowing for it’s having come adrift of its semantical moorings here and there and almost completely in some places (St Skeat and all that’s holy keep it from clagging up to the too-rude sense!) and sometimes it carries a moral judgement to the effect that one should not. And probably one should not fahk up the hermeneutic as it is being properly done , and should endeavour to point out any flaws we see in it – not opinions we disagree with, but actual errors. Most arise from mistaking the hypotheses of someone hugely up there (oh my goodness hardly to be seen for the mists of distance an the slamming of cloister doors) for facts, a mistake arising from mistaking someone hugely up there for a god.

Well, now, I’ve already made a couple of etymological assertions that I can’t prove and for sure, I will not declare myself to be in possession of any sort of knowledge. But I do educate my guesses with honest care and I certainly hope you will give them them due and critique them with the same respectful courtesy I intend to offer those whose guesses differ from mine.

The rhyme I’m concerned with today, amusingly fictionally contextuallized by Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, and traditionally illustrated with a depiction of two fat identical twin lads, goes like this:

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
Agreed to have a battle,
For Tweedle Dee said Tweedle Dum
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then a monstrous crow flew by,
As big as a tar barrel,
And frightened both the brothers so
They both forgot their quarrel.

Now I’d like to opine – er – yes, Friodur, you are correct, those red twirly-whirly things hanging off the sides of my face that look like the feathery gills of an axolotl are indeed my side whiskers, did you wish to make a comment upon them? No? Good. I’d like to opine that tweedle is a word to do with which tweed is another, or more intelligibly, the tweed part of tweedle is the tweed part of tweed. Tweed, now, is a river, isn’t it? an English river, or rather, in the interests of the exquisite accuracy we’re all aspiring assiduously to, aren’t we? a river in what is currently called England.

But it’s also a kind of woollen cloth, nicht wahr?
One of my warm woolly favourites, cosy and gorgeous. Mmmmmm! :).

No, Bernadette, I did not mean ‘to which we’re all aspiring assiduously’ – I prefer the grammatical option of using a preposition to end a clause with that I’ve availed myself determinedly of.

Of the ‘–le’ the ‘e’ is silent, so ‘-le’ is as we know pronounced ‘schwa+l’. ‘L’ in English is pronounced either as the first letter of ‘letter’, or as the last letter of the Cornish plural ending ‘–ow’. This is because the Cornish plural ending ‘–ow’ is the English word ‘all’, and vice versa. Both are variants of the Cornish word ‘oll’. Another variant, without leaving Britain, is the adjectival suffix ‘-al’ as in ‘feudal’. Don’t let anybody tell you it ‘came from’ or was ‘derived from’ or ‘borrowed from’ the Latin, just because it occurs also in Latin. They haven’t even got these bits of words fully and indisputably mapped yet, especially those that have been harvested from old texts without the help of hermeneuts of the impeccable character and superbulosity of geniosity of myself, so it’s far too soon to slam on vectors, i.e., guesses about which word moved to where from where when and how and under whose supervision. Wait till the dust has settled from the last mega-shake-up – the rise and fall of poor old Rome, blessed be she, and the Romanisation of the Fahken Catholic Church, poor beast!

The ‘–le’ of ‘tweedle’ then is the ‘–al’ of feudal, and is the remaining trace of a Brythonic plural ending which is ‘-au’ in Welsh if I’m not wrong, though the current pronunciation of -au in Welsh raises a question or two and when some quirk of Welsh pronunciation raises a question, it sort of tends metaphorically to be the raising of a scab and there’s usually some piece of schrapnel from some violation of Welsh heritage festering away under it and since it’s got nothing to do with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum I won’t go into it here, but fear not, beloved mabon, we’re breaking through) and so ‘Tweedle’ means Tweeds.

Tweeds are cloths, for making clothes. Weeds are among other things, clothing. It survives in the phrase ‘widow’s weeds’. So the weed part of tweed and the weed part of weed are the same word. So what’s the t?

Here’s my humble little guess, educated assiduously over a very long period of time spent poring over maps of the world with masses and masses of little wordlets snapped up from a whole array of wriggling, seething, constantly evolving, sometimes rapidly mutating, language-culture complexes, splattered and sprayed about over the map of the world with exquisite care and uncanny accuracy by my splendid self, though even I can be wrong sometimes, with particular attention paid to the little twiddly bits that everyone else seems to neglect or just make gruff sort of approximate noise re, through thickly beetling 19th century moustaches of academic respectability (otters, they all seem to be, which is to say, Arthurs) that seem to imply that it isn’t worth your academic career to look too closely at things like this, but there, who knows, there probably are just heaps of academics somewhere crouched just as securely and conscientiously over their tomes and charts who already know all about the meaning of t in the word tweed; they’re just not sharing it with us counter-culture independent scholars because it costs too much to publish abstruse etymological stuff and it sells to such a very restricted market, and they’re not going to put it on the web for free!!! – unless they have but no one has ever actually found it yet because they’re too poor to advertise, so you have to rely on the OED which is notoriously out of date with all except a few words that happen to have been enquired about by more than the critical mass of enquirers who could no longer stand the obvious erroniousness of what they found there; or the little paragraph on the right-hand bottom corner of the horoscopes and puzzles pages of your favourite family magazine, to get a sense of what the prevailing opinion is, and this might be because they KNOW it’s vulnerable to critique, and don’t want anyone to see, and that… why yes, Josephine, you are correct, that thin, grim, lipless slit under my nose and between my red-ginger curly-whirly whiskers that look remarkably like the gills of an axolotl now that you mention it, is indeed my mouth, and thank you for pointing out to us all its near resemblance to the mouth of a juvenile salamander.

Wriggly things? Why yes. Words are. And scuttly, too. No Wulftrout I see no real reason to address them through another metaphor. It’s much more tractable than the current one that wants us to see them all as trees, branches, twigs and leaves with no pleachings or mergings devourings or marryings, and everything all linear and all roads lead to Rome.

Yes, Roger, that was, I think, the bell for recess…