Rimes Guernesiaises: a counting rhyme

Gros-det, aridet, longuedon ou maitre-det, Jean des sceâs ou Jean des sceaux, petit coutelas ou courtelas: telle est la nomenclature des cinq doigts, selon les nourrices.

'These are the names of our five fingers, according to the nursery rhymes.' So said George Métivier in the glossary to the first published collection of poetry written in Guernsey French, Rimes Guernesiaises

The Gros-det is the gros-doigt, or thumb ('le pouce' in standard French); the Aridet, the index finger; the Longuedon is the 'long' middle finger, also known as the maître or 'master' finger; the ring finger is John-of-the-Seals ('annulaire' in standard French); and the little finger is the Petit Coutelas, or 'little cutlass,' or dagger. This is probably derived from the word courtelas, a version of cutlass, being here a pun on court, the French word for 'short.' or det is the Guernsey French word for finger.

Métivier in his later Dictionary² also gives the name Mousqeton, or little musket, for the middle finger.

It is interesting to compare this rhyme with others from France. An example from Loiret given by Eugene Rolland³ is this rhyme: 'Poucet, Aridet, Jean Deschaux, Petit Courtaud, Le riquiqui, Mange le rôti.' From the Ardennes: 'le Poucet, l'Aridet, le Grand-dame, Jean d'la Sau, Petit Courtaud—et Saute à l'ieau.' The petit coutelas, the 'short finger,' is sometimes the ring finger in these rhymes, so that one can assume the origin of the name as the finger that carried the seal ring has here been forgotten. Although Longuedon for the middle finger is perhaps unique and of Germanic derivation, the most similar rhymes are not necessarily from Normandy, leading to the conclusion that this nursery rhyme is not primarily Norman French in origin.

For another Guernsey nursery rhyme from Métivier see Pouliche.

¹ This list of the names of the fingers in Guernsey French is to be found in the glossary to Rimes Guernesiaises, 1831, London: Simpkin, Marshall et Cie; Guernsey: E. Barbet, p. 176. Marie de Garis collected several children's rhymes and ball games in 'Folklore of Guernsey Part 2: Childrens' Games', in the QRGS 29 (3), Winter 1973, p. 77 ff. The Star of May 11, 1939: 'Once upon a time even the adult knew what game was in season amongst Guernsey boys and girls. He knew if it was hoops (iron for the boys, frail wood for the girls) or tops or kitten-katten, the local name, now little used, for tip-cat, or marbles.'

² The Priaulx Library has a comprehensive collection of Norman French and patois dictionaries. Métivier, G., Dictionnaire Franco-normand, London: Williams and Norgate, 1870. He gives the spelling Arridet for the index finger here. See also, amongst others, Fleury, J., Le Patois normand de la Hague, Kelham, A Dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language, London: Edward Brooke, 1759.

³ Rolland, E., Rhymes et jeux de l'enfance, 1883, is a primary source for these. Bourdon, J.-P., Cournee, A., Charpentier, Y., Dictionnaire Normand-Français, Paris: Conseil international de la langue française, 1993, lists a couple of finger rhymes from Normandy that bear no resemblance to Métivier's.