Crossed folk stories

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro cartoon:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page)

The strip explicitly refers to the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but also alludes to the Piper’s son as having stolen a pig. This is baffling unless you know a particular English nursery rhyme, so we have another exercise in cartoon understanding.

Ok, let’s assume you get that. Then the cartoon is a kind of conceptual portmanteau, a cross between the Piper legend and the Piper’s son nursery rhyme. Then set in a modern law-enforcement context, juxtaposing some (stereotyped) version of the real world with the world of these two folk stories. Cool.

The Pied Piper. Previously on this blog:

on 7/23/13 in ” Pied Piping Day”, on the Pied Piper (with illustrations); also on the linguistic topic of fronting vs. pied piping — pied-piping being a phenomenon of syntax whereby a given focused expression takes an entire encompassing phrase with it when it is “moved”.

The contrast is with stranding of prepositions:

stranded: constituents we start our relative clause with __

pied-piped: constituents with which we start our relative clauses

on 6/24/18 in “The musician, the mayor, his instrument, and their vermin”, about the Pied Piper of Hamelin

Tom, Tom,  the piper’s son. From Wikipedia:

“Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son” is a popular English language nursery rhyme. Modern versions of the rhyme include:

Tom, Tom, the piper’s son,
Stole a pig, and away did run;
The pig was eat
And Tom was beat,
And Tom went crying / roaring / howling
Down the street.

The ‘pig’ mentioned in the song is almost certainly not a live animal but rather a kind of pastry, often made with an apple filling, smaller than a pie. And the meaning of the rhyme involves a naughty boy named Tom whose father was a piper, and he steals the “pig”, eats it, and after receiving a beating from his father (or someone else), Tom cries all the way down the street.

… This rhyme is often conflated with a separate and longer rhyme [given in Wikipedia; the two rhymes have distinct histories]

The rhyme has of course been illustrated many many times. Here’s an especially attractive illustration by Claud Lovat Fraser (1890-1921) — a 1919 drawing (from his Nursery rhymes with pictures), on the Royal Academy of Arts site:


Notes on verb forms. Line 2: away he run. Line 3: the pig was eat and Tom was beat.

Line 2: what looks like a BSE form run used for standard PST ran. DARE reports PST run in the US as “esp freq among speakers with gs education or less” (with cites going back to 1637). I’m sure it was common in British non-standard usage as well, and that’s what we see in the nursery  rhyme.

Note that the version in Wikipedia fixes this, with away did run, using a construction that actually requires the BSE form in standard English.

Line 3: what looks like PST forms eat and beat used for standard PSP eaten and beaten. Now this is a long-standing topic on this blog, originally with reference to non-standard AmE, though it applies equally to non-standard BrE varieties.

The most relevant posting is from 12/11/18 “Note on  PSP = PST”,  about the (extensive) use of apparent PST forms in PSP function. It’s all over the place, and we see it dramatically in the nursery rhyme.

The larger point is that the nursery rhyme deploys vernacular forms — from at least 1795, apparently, though they’re still well attested. But kids learn the rhymes as they are, even if the morphology and syntax are not theirs: the rhymes are formulas, and you just reproduce them as best as you can.


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