These numbers are thought to be remnants of Brythonic languages related to Welsh and Cornish. They were collected from many parts of the British Isles mainly during the 19th century and there are many versions of them. They were used in children's counting games, and to count sheep and cattle, knitting stitches, money and so on.
Like traditional Welsh numbers, the sheep scoring systems are vigesimal. Most versions only go up to 20, and for each 20 or score shepherds would put a pebble in their pocket, scratch a mark on a stick or stone, or use grooves, nobbles and nicks in their crooks to keep track of how many they'd counted.
These numbers were used in some places, particularly the Lake District, until the early 20th century, though by then only a few people remembered them.
Here is a selection of sheep scoring numbers from Cumbria and Yorkshire:
If any of the numbers are links, you can hear a recording by clicking on them. If you can provide recordings, please contact me.
|15||bumfit||bumfit||boon / buom / buum|
|20||giggy||jiggit||buom'fit / buum'fit|
|15||buon||mimphit / mump||bumper|
Hear some of these numbers:
Here's a song I wrote featuring these numbers:
More information about the sheep scoring numbers
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