Tweedle Dee and, yes, Susan, perhaps Dum

Tweedle Dee and, yes, Susan, perhaps Dum.

Tweed-all, or all the tweeds are or is the plural of tweed and tweed is also a river. What luck! It enables us to locate geographically a parent of our famous quarrelers on a real world map, close to the River Tweed. It’s a bonnie river that starts in Scotland and flows southish west until it becomes part of the border between Scotland and England before emptying into the North Sea. May its waters be ever sweet: pollution free, beautiful to view and life sustaining, fish plentiful in the waters, wildlife abundant in its valleys.

But we’re dealing with two tweedles here: dum and dee. Dee’s well, look now, well, would you look at that, another river, or hang on, it’s two! Well, feicim e! (Excuse me if I sometimes lapse into my beloved Gaelic). One’s mostly in Wales in the north and west forming bits of the border between Wales an England with a bit going over into England and it empties into the Irish sea via a large estuary, and the other is wholly in Scotland emptying into the sea at Aberdeen. Aber is Cornish for river mouth, and cognate with the English Harbour, so the Deen of Aberdeen is a kind of genitive or adjectivalisation of Dee. It denotes a Port in Cornish, the mouth of a much-used river.

But Dundee, or Dee-Town, is situated way down south on the banks of the Tay. Get out your Atlas, Wayne, and have a look.

While you’re there, check out Tees and Teesdale. My whiskers bristle just thinking about ‘em. You see, one of the major languages once spoken in this area was, as we well know, a so-called ‘Brythonic’ language, that is, a close relation of Welsh and Cornish. In Brythonic, among the initial letter mutations that characterise them, we see the t transmuted to d in certain grammatical situations. That couldn’t happen at all if there were no tendency to pronounce t as d, to which the speakers might yield at last under certain kinds of logistical pressure. It’s the Moor in them, and there’s evidence of their having sometimes also inter-married with Turks and with Indians. In the Brythonic languages the logistics that apply that pressure seem to be within the grammar of the language itself.

Here, about the Border lands, where the language is no longer spoken but the descendents of the people who spoke it are still contributing to the gene pool, the guilty logistics have been shifted, shuffled off unceremoniously into the cultural psyche to manifest with morose devil-may-care in the readily penetrated disguise of a geographically determined diversity, or what might pass for one if you didn’t know what cussedness of human personality and repressed bitterness in the submerged psyche determines the distribution of such manifestations. Ts become ds. Tee in the self-confident south of the tea country is Dee in the given-their-come-uppance north. Ty, Tay, Tyburn etc – they’ve even gone and wallowed about the vowel, haven’t they, the irresponsible urchins!

Now if tweed is a type of woollen cloth, what is tee, dee, tay, or ty, English and at home in the North where Brythonic speakers once spoke? Arnold? Maryjane? Yes, Elspeth? That’s right – tea. What sort of tea? I don’t know. I know that tisane is ti + ane, and that ane = -anna (Irish plural ending) and any (English word) so that tisane means teas-any, and any here probably means -any sort, and indeed in France and Blegium it still does. It’s only in England that the choice narrowed so dramatically to the one imported from the orient. What range or array of teas had they there? I, Herman Newt, do solemnly declare that it’sa pound or even two to a sardine and that quite a small skinny one that it was a developed industry here once, and teas were being exported.

No Phillipa, I don’t believe that Underzo and whatsisface, in Asterix the Gaul in Britain had hit it on the head when they said that before the Dutch East India company and the British Raj the Poms stopped everything at four o’clock for a cup of plain hot water. There’s scattered evidence of tea-drinking before the arrival of the Romans but I won’t go into it now. And yes, Sally, of course: te is Irish for hot, teas is Irish for heat, and deas is Irish for nice and also for south. In a cold country, nice and warm tend to become synonymous.

It’s enough to know that there are some small hints that there was a tea industry in the North of England and the south of Scotland (although I’ll say now that it’s a chastened people that would mutate tea to dee, curtseyers, I’ll warrant, and curtseys go with frills, don’t you know, even on their pinnies, would you believe it! Places like that, Timothy becomes dimity and there’s your curtains. By god, that’s tea you’d be drinking in a place like that.

I’m thinking that it’s Dee would be curtseying to Tweedle, not Tweedle to Dee, but not necessarily in this instance. Thank you Darlene. Rosemary, Raspberry leaf, rose petal and violet. I’ll have the raspberry leaf, please, and strawberry jam and cream with me scones. Ta.

It’s likely that Tweedle and Dee were the parents of Tweedle-Dee. That’s how it works with double-barrel names, isn’t it? Mr Tweedle and Ms Dee or Ms Tweedle and Mr Dee? He wouldn’t curtsey, would he? Would Ms Tweedle? I can’t see it. Which was which?

That’s not necessarily going to be easy to ascertain until we’ve examined the marriage customs of back then. Back when, Oscar? Hmmm. Perhaps that too, must await further data which, who knows, we may be able to dig up along with the dirt on Dum.

Next week, Gregory, and Jason and that other galoot who was also flicking wet goo off the end of his ruler at Katherine and Mandy, I’ll see you outside after the bell goes. Two lumps please, Darlene…

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