Swiss spin-off: Wallisellen

The town of Wallisellen in Canton Zürich, Switzerland, has just come up again on this blog (in the posting “Three Züricher Peter Zwickys”), as the site of the Zwicky silk-thread company and now the Zwicky construction and real estate company. Two notable things about the place (from its Wikipedia page): the etymology of its name, which looks like a compound (and is), but without easily identifiable parts; and a Swiss German nonsense rhyme that incorporates the town’s name.

The placename. From Wikipedia:

(#1) Picturesque (as opposed to industrial) Wallisellen (pop. ca. 14,000)

The first settlement at Wallisellen dates from 58 BC. The municipality Wallisellen has its origin between 400 and 700 BC, after the Germanic migration of the peoples. Wallisellen is named according to both parts “Walchen” and “Seller”. The Germanic peoples described as “Walchen” [their] Celtic and Roman neighbours)… The word “Seller” stands for immigrated farmers, in contrast to long-established farmers…

The Walli– part is common to various Germanic-derived placenames — Wallachia, Wallonia, Wales, Cornwall — but is certainly not recognizable to modern speakers of German. About the Sell– part, I have no idea.

The nonsense rhyme. Again from the Wikipedia entry:

Wallisellen is known in [the] German part of Switzerland due to a rhyme:

[Swiss German original:] “Aazelle, Bölle schelle, d’Chatz gaht uf Walliselle, chunnt si wider hei, hät si chrummi Bei, piff paff puff und du bisch (ehr und redlich) duss”.

German translation: “Anzählen, Zwiebeln schälen, die Katze geht nach Wallisellen, kommt sie wieder nach Hause, hat sie krumme Beine, piff paff puff und du bist (ehr und redlich) draussen”.

English translation: “Counting, peeling onions, the cat goes to Wallisellen, [she comes] back home, [she has] crooked legs, piff paff puff and you are (honestly and candidly) outside.”

(From this, you can see a little bit about the relationship between this variety of Swiss German and standard German.)

Crudely, the verse scans as three lines of tetrameter (with front-accented feet):


But the verse is much more subtly organized. Each foot consists of two half-feet (of roughly equal duration), the first with a primary accent, the other with a secondary accent (except that a rest — indicated here by a circle —  fills the second half-foot in several places):


The rhyming material is distributed differently in each line:

in line 1, the second half-feet in feet 1, 2, and 4 rhyme (in –elle);

in line 2, the two short feet (2 and 4) rhyme (in –ei);

in line 3, the syllables with primary accent in feet 2 and 4 half-rhyme (in –uff and –uss)

In all three lines, feet 2 and 4 are matched, but in different ways.

(Alternatively, the secondary accents could be treated as equivalent to primaries, in which case we’re looking at 6 lines of trochaic tetrameter (with some short feet) and a somewhat tricky AA BB CC rhyme scheme.)

The verse is a counting-out rhyme (Abzählreim) of the eenie, minie, moe,… (ene, mene, muh,…) or one, two, three,… (eins, zwei, drei,…) variety, leading to the expulsive you are out (du bisch duss). So it makes sense that it begins with Aazelle (or Azelle or some other spelling variant) ‘counting’ — in fact, with Aazelle, Bölle schelle, suggesting A B C.

There are a great many variants of the text, and even more of the spelling of the texts. (Swiss German varies significantly from one place to the next, and the spelling is mostly not standardized.)

There are, of course, YouTube videos, including one that has a video tour of Wallisellen in it. And one with Aazelle, Bölle schelle performed as a song by a rock band, which you can watch here.

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