“Ickerman, chickerman”: an old PNW kids’ rhyme?


(Image credit: PaulBommer.bigcartel.com)

A possible find of enormous interest. But cross-reference with “doggerel”!

Here’s a nonsense rhyme as found in the “Storytelling Folklore Sourcebook” by Norma J. Livo and Sandra A. Rietz (Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1991).

Ah, ra, chickera,
Roly, poly, pickera,
Kinny, minny, festi,
Ickerman, chickerman, chinee-choo.
(credited to Opie and Opie 1955)

Weirdly resemblant of Chinuk Wawa, some of that is! Shanti would mean ‘sing’, poo ‘shoot; gun’, chickerman ‘money’. (And chinee would be ‘Chinese’ in some documented dialects of Chinook Jargon.)

It almost seems too close to be due to chance.

The sum of the evidence says this rhyme is ultimately Scottish in origin. It kind of reminds me of a definitely Celtic-originated (but in English, nonsense) sequence of words, the traditional sheep-counting numerals in peripheral areas of England.

(Follow that link, for an awesome read! And watch this wonderful video of Jake Thackray explaining those numerals and singing a song with them.)

A good authority on this ickerman-chickerman business is “Counting-Out Rhymes: A Dictionary” edited by Roger D. Abrahams and Lois Rankin (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1980).

I see a version attributed to Pennsylvania. Maybe today’s rhyme is similarly a transplanted and nativized Pacific Northwest variant?

What do you think?