Story of Tom Tit Tot
The Story of Tom Tit Tot
interest in that group was awakened some years ago when looking over a
bundle of old numbers of the Ipswich Journal, in which some odds and ends
of local 'notes and queries' were collected. Among these was the story
of 'Tom Tit Tot,' which, with another story, 'Cap
o' Rushes' (in this the King Lear incident of testing the love of
the three daughters is the motif) had been sent to Mr. Hindes Groome,
the editor of the 'notes and queries' column, by a lady to whom they had
been told in her girlhood by an old West Suffolk nurse. Much of their
value lies in their being almost certainly derived from oral transmission
through uncultured peasants. The story of 'Tom Tit Tot,' given in the
racy dialect of East Anglia, is as follows:--
[SurLaLune Note: You can read Joseph Jacobs' version of the tale here: Tom Tit Tot.]
Well, once upon a time there were a woman
and she baked five pies. And when they come out of the oven, they was
that overbaked, the crust were too hard to eat. So she says to her darter--
says she, 'put you them there pies on the shelf an' leave 'em there a
little, an' they'll come agin'--she meant, you know, the crust 'ud get
But the gal, she says to herself, 'Well,
if they'll come agin, I'll ate 'em now.' And she set to work and ate 'em
all, first and last.
Well, come supper time the woman she said,
'Goo you and git one o' them there pies. I dare say they 'ye came agin
The gal she went an' she looked, and there
warn't nothin' but the dishes. So back she come and says she, 'Noo, they
ain't come agin.'
'Not none on 'em?' says the mother.
'Not none on 'em,' says she.
'Well, come agin, or not come agin,' says
the woman, 'I 'll ha' one for supper.'
'But you can't, if they ain't come,' says the gal. 'But I can,' says she.
'Goo you and bring the best of 'em.'
'Best or worst,' says the gal, 'I 'ye ate
'em all, and you can't ha' one till that 's come agin.'
Well, the woman she were wholly bate, and
she took her spinnin' to the door to spin, and as she span she sang--
'My darter ha' ate five, five pies to-day--
The king he were a comin' down the street
an he hard her sing, but what she sang he couldn't hare, so he stopped
'What were that you was a singun of, maw'r?'
The woman, she were ashamed to let him hare
what her darter had been a doin', so she sang, 'stids o' that--
'My darter ha' spun five, five skeins to-day--
'S'ars o' mine!' said the king, 'I never
heerd tell of any on as could do that.'
Then he said: 'Look you here, I want a wife,
and I 'll marry your darter. But look you here,' says he, ''leven months
out o' the year she shall have all the vittles she likes to eat, and all
the gownds she likes to git, and all the cumpny she likes to hey; but
the last month o' the year she 'll ha' to spin five skeins iv'ry day,
an' if she doon't, I shall kill her.'
'All right,' says the woman: for she thowt
what a grand marriage that was. And as for them five skeins, when te come
tew, there'd be plenty o' ways of gettin' out of it, and likeliest, he
'd ha' forgot about it.
Well, so they was married. An' for 'leven
months the gal had all the vittles she liked to ate, and all the gownds
she liked to git, an' all the cumpny she liked to hev.
But when the time was gettin' oover, she
began to think about them there skeins an' to wonder if he had 'em in
mind. But not one word did he say about 'em, an' she whoolly thowt he
'd forgot 'em.
Howsivir, the last day o' the last month,
he takes her to a room she'd niver set eyes on afore. There worn't nothin'
in it but a spinnin' wheel and a stool. An' says he, 'Now, me dear, hare
yow 'Il be shut in to-morrow with some vittles and some flax, and if you
hairi't spun five skeins by the night, yar hid 'll goo off.'
An' awa' he went about his business.
Well, she were that frightened. She'd allus
been such a gatless mawther, that she didn't se much as know how to spin,
an' what were she to dew tomorrer, with no one to come nigh her to help
her. She sat down on a stool in the kitchen, and lork! how she did cry!
Howsivir, all on a sudden she hard a sort
of a knockin' low down on the door. She upped and oped it, an' what should
she see but a small little black thing with a long tail. That looked up
at her right kewrious, an' that said--
'What are yew a cryin' for?'
'Wha 's that to yew?' says she.
'Niver yew mind,' that said, 'but tell me
what you 're a cryin' for.'
'That oon't dew me noo good if I dew,' says
she. 'Yew doon't know that,' that said, an' twirled that's tail round.
'Well,' says she, 'that oon't dew no harm,
if that doon't dew no good,' and she upped and told about the pies an'
the skeins an' everything.
'This is what I'll dew,' says the little
'I 'll come to yar winder iv'ry mornin' an'
take the flax an' bring it spun at night.'
'What 's your pay?' says she.
That looked out o' the corners o' that's
eyes an' that said: 'I 'll give you three guesses every night to guess
my name, an' if you hain't guessed it afore the month 's up, yew shall
Well, she thowt she'd be sure to guess that's
name afore the month was up. 'All right,' says she, 'I agree.'
'All right,' that says, an' lork! how that
twirled that's tail.
Well, the next day, her husband he took her
inter the room, an' there was the flax an' the day's vittles.
'Now, there 's the flax,' says he, 'an' if
that ain't spun up this night off goo yar hid.' An' then he went out an'
locked the door.
He'd hardly goon, when there was a knockin'
agin the winder.
She upped and she oped it, and there sure
enough was the little oo'd thing a settin' on the ledge.
'Where's the flax?' says he.
'Here te be,' says she. And she gonned it
to him. Well, come the evenin', a knockin' come agin to the winder. She
upped an' she oped it, and there were the little oo'd thing, with five
skeins of flax on his arm.
'Here te be,' says he, an' he gonned it to
'Now, what 's my name?' says he.
'What, is that Bill?' says she.
'Noo, that ain't,' says he. An' he twirled
'Is that Ned?' says she.
'Noo, that ain't,' says he. An' he twirled
'Well, is that Mark?' says she.
'Noo, that ain't,' says he. An' he twirled
his tail harder, an' awa' he flew.
Well, when har husban' he come in: there
was the five skeins riddy for him. 'I see I shorn't hey for to kill you
tonight, me dare,' says he. 'Yew 'ii hey yar vittles and yar flax in the
mornin',' says he, an' away he goes.
Well, ivery day the flax an' the vittles,
they was browt, an' ivery day that there little black impet used for to
come monin's and evenin's. An' all the day the mawther she set a tryin'
fur to think of names to say to it when te come at night. But she niver
hot on the right one. An' as that got to-warts the md o' the month, the
impet that began for to look soo maliceful, an' that twirled that's tail
faster an' faster each time she gave a guess.
At last te come to the last day but one.
The impet that come at night along o' the five skeins, an' that said--
'What, hain't yew got my name yet?'
'Is that Nicodemus?' says she. 'Noo, t'ain't,'
'Is that Sammle?' says she.
'Noo, t'ain't,' that says.
'A-well, is that Methusalem?' says she.
'Noo, t'ain't that norther,' he says. Then
that looks at her with that's eyes like a cool o' fire, an' that says,
'Woman, there 's only to-morrer night, an' then yar'll be mine!' n' away
Well, she felt that horrud. Howsomediver,
she hard the king a coming along the passage. In he came, an' when he
see the five skeins, he says, says he--
'Well, me dare,' says he, 'I don't see but
what yew 'll ha' your skeins ready tomorrer night as well, an' as I reckon
I shorn't ha' to kill you, I 'll ha' supper in here to-night.' So they
brought supper, an' another stool for him, and down the tew they sat.
Well, he hadn't eat but a mouthful or so,
when he stops and begins to laugh.
'What is it?' says she.
'A-why,' says he, 'I was out a-huntin' to-day,
an' I got away to a place in the wood I'd never seen afore. An' there
was an old chalk pit. An' I heerd a sort of a hummin', kind o'. So I got
off my hobby, an' I went right ~quiet to the pit, an' I looked down. Well,
what should there be but the funniest little black thing yew iver set
eyes on. An' what was that a dewin' on, but that had a little spinnin'
wheel, an' that were a spinnin' wonnerful fast, an' a twirlin' that's
tail. An' as that span, that sang--
'Nimmy nimmy not,
Well, when the mawther heerd this, she fared
as if she could ha' jumped outer her skin for joy, but she di'n't say
Next day, that there little thing looked
soo maliceful when he come for the flax. An' when night came, she heerd
that a knockin' agin the winder panes. She oped the winder, an' that come
right in on the ledge. That were grinnin' from are to are, an' Oo! tha's
tail were twirlin' round so fast.
'What's my name?' that says, as that gonned
her the skeins.
'Is that Solomon?' she says, pretendin' to
'Noo, t'ain't,' that says, an' that come
fudder inter the room.
'Well, is that Zebedee?' says she agin.
'Noo, t'ain't,' says the impet. An' then
that laughed an' twirled that's tail till yew cou'n't hardly see it.
'Take time, woman,' that says; 'next guess,
an' you're mine.' An' that stretched out that's black hands at her.
Well, she backed a step or two, an' she looked
at it, and then she laughed out, an' says she, a pointin' of her finger
'Nimmy nimmy not,
Well when that hard her, that shruck awful an' awa' that flew into the dark, an' she niver saw it noo more.
[a] The local pronunciation of 'mawther,'
which, remarks Nail in his Glossary of the Dialect and Frovincialisms
of East Anglia (Longmans, 1866), 'is the most curious word in the
East Anglian vocabulary.' A woman and her mawther mean a woman and her
daughter. The word is derived from the same root as 'maid' and cognate
words, upon which see Skeat's Etymological Dictionary, s.v.
Nail gives examples of the use of snawther by Tusser and
other writers. Tusser (English Dialect Soc., editn. 1878, p. 37)
speaks of 'a sling for a moether, a bowe for a boy.' In Ben Jonson's Alchymist,
Restive says to Dame Pliant (Act iv. 7) 'Away, you talk like a foolish
mawther!' In the English Moor (Act iii. 1), Richard Brome makes
a playful use of the word--
'P. I am a mother that do want a service.
Qu. O, thou 'rt a Norfolk woman (cry thee mercy)
And in Blomfield's Suffolk Ballad we read--
'When once a giggling mawther you,
In the Gothic translation of the Gospels, Luke viii. 54,
'Maid, arise,' is rendered 'Maur, urreis.'
Clodd, Edward. Tom Tit Tot: An Essay on Savage Philosophy in Folk-Tale. London: Duckworth and Co. 1898.