[APG Public List] Nickname question [Jane -> Jincy -> Incy]

Ida Skarson McCormick idamc at seanet.com
Mon Nov 23 18:32:22 MST 2009

At 04:23 PM 11/23/2009, Ray Beere Johnson II wrote:
>--- On Mon, 11/23/09, Ida Skarson McCormick <idamc at seanet.com> wrote:
> > Incy makes sense because at that time J and I could still
> > be considered the same letter in the 24-character English
> > alphabet. "Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie
> > [movable type]...."
>      As a former letterpress printer (with cases of handset, 
> "movable" type still in my basement, along with the presses) and a 
> student of printing history, I never heard of this particular 
> association. I am interested in where you got the idea this rhyme 
> refers to printing. (The term "pi" - not pie - is a printing term, 
> but not one which really fits the sense of the rhyme: it means a 
> jumbled, unsorted mess of letters. It would be a source of woe, not 
> merriment, at least to a printer. And the rest of the rhyme is even 
> harder to fit into a printing allegory.)
>      I did some searching on my own, but all I could find was this 
> source <http://www.snopes.com/lost/sixpence.asp> (Snopes is 
> generally reliable), which claims a very different origin for the 
> rhyme. So now I'm going slowly crazy trying to figure out if there 
> is some bit of printing lore I somehow missed, or if this is simply 
> a misunderstanding.
>      (As to the letters I and J being considered the same, this is 
> true, but by the approximate time this rhyme appears, the letter J, 
> as well as the letter U - the other "holdout" - had already been 
> added to the printer's typecase, at least in most shops.)
>                         Ray Beere Johnson II
Mother Goose predates Blackbeard. The blackbirds are the 24-letter 
alphabet set in movable type, according to one interpretation. This 
reference in the Mother Goose rhyme is to the King James Version of 
the Bible. "Now, wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King?" 
It's a handy way for us to remember that the English alphabet had 24 
letters instead of the present-day 26. I and J were the same letter; 
U and V were the same letter. For example, Lovisa endured a long time 
as a variant of Louisa. As I quoted previously, names are "the 
fossils of speech."

However, as Chris Roberts says in _Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The 
Reason Behind the Rhyme_, "Alternative theories abound for this 
[rhyme]...." He goes on to discuss culinary habits and beheading of 
queens in his favorite interpretations of "Sing a Song of Sixpence."

--Ida Skarson McCormick, idamc at seanet.com, Seattle

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