Monday, 20 December 2010

Five Gold Rings

The Twelve Days of Christmas are, of course, the twelve days after Christmas. However, by that time everybody will have stopped singing. So this post must go up five days before Jesus and Mary began their stable relationship, thus giving you five days to stride around sounding clever.

I assume, dear reader, that if you love anybody truly you have been off spending your savings on partridges, turtle doves, French hens and the like. This is all right and proper, but don't whatever you do buy them a pear tree, four calling birds or five gold rings, for these are all linguistic illusions.

Diligent and paleomnesiac readers of this blog will remember that the Old French for partridge was pertis (meaning fart) and the pear tree of the song is almost certainly a confused anglicisation of pertis to pear-tree.

Similarly, there is no such thing as a calling bird; but a colly bird is a blackbird because colly (from coal) means black.

Finally, the gold rings. I hope you have not already bought them, dear amorous reader, or that if you have you have kept the receipt.

Let's have a look at the list for the first week, shall we?

1) Partridge
2) Turtledoves
3) French hens
4) Calling [colly=black] birds
5) Gold rings
6) Geese a-laying
7) Swans a-swimming

All birds. Notice the odd one out? Neither did I, for the gold rings are almost certainly ring-necked pheasants, or ring pheasants as they used to be called. The gold would be the colour of the wings, or perhaps the female plumage.

Or the rings could be ring-bills, ring-birds, ring-blackbirds, ring-buntings, ring-dotterels, ring-pigeons, ring-plovers, ring-sparrows or ring-thrushes. There's a veritable aviary of birds that could be called rings and that, given the feathered context, is what the song is about.

As an oven-ready pheasant costs four quid, you could have saved yourself a lot of money by consulting me before consulting the jeweller.

Oven-ready, dear reader, oven-ready.


  1. Interestingly the melody commonly sung for "five gold rings" was introduced in an arrangment by a chap called Frederic Austin, and is still technically copyright until the 70th anniversary of his death in 1952.

    So for example the Rutter arrangement explicitly attributes it, and presumably his estate is still paid royalities:

    There's an entertaining arrangement by Bob Chilcott where he takes particular trouble to avoid using it, setting each recurrence of the words in a different style, including barbershop, funk, gospel etc.

  2. Being a very keen observant on the lyrics of the song would really show that you have an excellent lens on it. This may not be very obvious to other people but if they come to understand it - the five gold rings literally would mean exactly what it is all about that is why they try to make of them.

  3. I, Tulsa, with my limited intellect, but endless curiosity, am going to spend the next week, or possibly eternity, trying to understand WTF you are saying. I just hope its worth the effort...

  4. Not to be obnoxious...but I get it.

  5. whats not to get, its a song, about birds.

  6. Linguistic illusions? Or allusions?

  7. It was a very good post indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in my lunch time. Will surely come and visit this blog more often. Thanks for sharing.
    men cross rings