Monday, December 8, 2014

Day Four Of Nitpicking The Twelve Days Of Christmas

I really want to email these people and ask them two basic questions.

First off, there's an "eFowl?"  Seriously?  eToys went bankrupt, got bought out by KayBee Toys, which then went bankrupt and I think everything went over to Toys R Us.

Secondly, there's really not much point in that first column if you can't buy that many.  Why have it there?

Okay, obviously we're talking about partridges and pear trees.

Okay, the obvious joke is done, let's get to work.

According to Greek myth, the first partridge appeared in the story about Daedalus and Perdix.  Daedalus was an inventor and craftsman who built the infamous labyrinth.  He was also the father of Icarus (and we all know how that turned out).  However, he was also the uncle of a young craftsman named Perdix.  Daedalus was extremely jealous of how bright and clever his nephew was (Perdix having invented the saw by shaping metal to look like a fish skeleton, and created a pair (possibly the first) of compasses).

At an opportunity high up on a hill, Daedalus shoved Perdix off the side so that he wouldn't have any competition in the world.  Athena, who likes clever people, saw this and changed Perdix into the first partridge.  "The bird does not build its nest in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high places."

For the record, Daedalus was charged with "murder" (though, no body, no crime?) and was banished.

So, we have a ground-dwelling bird who doesn't like trees in a pear tree.  Why?

And why a pear tree?  Especially in winter, when it would be barren of fruit and leaves?  You could just as easily say it grows chocolate bars and it would seem as likely.

Some people believe the song is heavy in religious symbolism.  The partridge in the pear tree represents God, the four calling birds are the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, seven swans are the seven sacraments, and so on.  The belief is that this was originally a means of teaching Catholic kids their tenets during a time when Catholicism was criminalized in England.

I don't buy it.

For one thing, the man who originally came up with the theory later went on to admit he had nothing to support his theory.  Second, how exactly do eight maids a milking remind you of the eight beatitudes?  Three French Hens are Faith, Hope, and Charity?  Twelve drummers are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed?

Not to be confused with Assassin's Creed.

Well, here's the theory I actually like a lot.

It's now believed by many that the song is actually a memory game originally sung by the Norman French a long, long time ago.  Like that game where everybody stands in a circle trying to remember the list of previously said things and then add their own, a kid who screwed up the lyrics would have to surrender a sweet or something else.

Remember how the first partridge was named Perdix?  "Perdrix" is French for partridge.  Now, when the song was first written, it's thought that the original line was "un Perdrix," though some dispute it.  There are some French New Years and Spring carols that all start out with "partridges" being gifts, though, so I'm willing to accept that it's French.

Now, go ask someone who speaks French with an accent how to say "perdrix."  Or Google it.  There's multiple options.

"Un Perdrix" sure sounds an awful lot like "in pear tree," doesn't it?

So wait, we have a partridge in a partridge?  How does that make sense?

Well, it doesn't, unless you take into account how often the song has changed through the centuries.  The calling birds (I'll go into this more later) were "four colly birds" with colly meaning "black."  It was also "boys a singing" instead of "maids a milking" for a while, and the Lords, Ladies, and Drummers all pretty much jumped around in the list along with "bells a ringing" and my personal favorite, "bears a beating."

I'm picturing grizzlies with bass drums, by the way, not that a number needs to be smacked with a cane behind the wood shed.

So, "un perdrix" reaches English speakers who later are told "no, the first line has a partridge in it" so they twist it around to include both.

So while you give your true love a dormant pear tree (or twelve, depending on the reading), keep in mind you're going to need a greenhouse, dirt with lots of minerals and nutrients in it, be ready to shape the branches since they tend to spiral out and up some, don't give them too much fertilizer (it can cause them to get fire blight easier), and you'll want to thin the fruit so it doesn't grow too close together.

Or just buy some extra partridges.  I know where you can get them in bulk, and they're significantly cheaper.

No comments: