I sometimes think we anglophones don’t appreciate what a rich and wonderful language we use. We may not have thirty different words for snow but hey, why give the rail networks another twenty nine reasons for torturing us?
I love to learn any new word and this week’s treasure is ‘yuglet’ for which I must thank my penpal Ernest Pig. EP’s humans have named one of their sheep after Nellie Buzzard, protagonist of A Humble Companion. A yuglet is a Shetland sheep with a particular pattern of markings. As you can see, Shetlands are a veritable Allsorts Selection Box of colourings and there’s a word for every one of them. Katmoget, gulmoget, bersugget and many, many more.
A pedant might argue that those words aren’t English at all, but rather Norn, the old language of the Shetland Islands, but imports are one of the reason English is so well-endowed and most pedants don’t have a problem swallowing hors d’oeuvres. If you see what I mean.
Now I hesitate to challenge Ernest – Nellie is, after all, one of his close neighbours – but having studied the possibilities (is it any wonder it takes me so long to write a book) she looked to me more like a bleset, or even a smirslet. But you could write everything I know about sheep on the back of an ear tag so I must defer to the Pig-on-the-Ground. Local knowledge and all that.
Here, dear townie readers, is your homework for the week. Do you know your gimmers from your ewes? Your tups from your wethers? Then get to it.
I will also share with you my favourite bit of sheepery: a shepherd’s way of counting his flock. Around Lincolnshire and the East Midlands where I grew up it goes like this. Yan (1) Tan (2) Tether (3) Pether (4) Pimp (5). I can’t remember the rest except for Bumfit (15) which appealed to my childish sense of humour, and (Figgot)20. Shepherds count in twenties, dontcher know. That’s where ‘keeping score’ comes from.
Tune in next week for another 300 words of pointless drivel.