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Child #20 - what is Lindsay?

18 May 07 - 05:30 PM (#2055881)
Subject: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Barb'ry

In one version of 'Cruel Mother' the refrain is 'ay the rose and the lindsay-o'. I sing the song but hate not knowing what 'Lindsay' is. I always assumed it was something botanical - am I right and if so, what exactly is it?

18 May 07 - 05:38 PM (#2055887)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Jeri

Linseed = flax

18 May 07 - 05:41 PM (#2055890)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Stilly River Sage

I tend to think of that as linseed, but that's just me. Here's a link, linseed is related to flax. Doing an image search on the term "Lindsay" ends up with primarily people named Lindsay. Not much help there.


18 May 07 - 05:42 PM (#2055891)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Stilly River Sage

Look at that, Jeri--we even landed on the same link (I looked for one in the UK so it might line up for for the UK venue).

18 May 07 - 05:46 PM (#2055894)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Jeri

Weird... [Twilight Zone music]
Maybe there's something to it. (I was guessing.)

18 May 07 - 05:53 PM (#2055899)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Barb'ry

I never thought linseed was a British thing, but thinking about it, I suppose it has been used in woodwork (not to mention oiling cricket bats) for eons, so that's probably it. Thank you

18 May 07 - 06:30 PM (#2055938)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Darowyn

Here are a couple more interesting but mostly useless connections.
Lindsey is of the districts of the County of Lincolnshire. There are two others, one of which is Holland, the other is Kesteven.
Lindsey-woolsey, was a cheap but hard wearing cloth made from a mixture of linen and wool.
Flax has been grown in Eastern England for a very long time, and in season, has beautiful blue flowers. However, I've never heard anyone call the flowers lindsay- except possibly in the above refrain.

18 May 07 - 06:43 PM (#2055955)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: michaelr

More thread drift (sorry): "Holland" is a type of cloth made from flax. (See "The Holland Handkerchief".)


18 May 07 - 07:02 PM (#2055967)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Don Firth

I did a quick google but didn't come up with much and I've got to dash right now. But it occurred to me that since the rose is supposed to be a symbol for love, perhaps lindsay has some symbolic significance in the language and symbolism of flowers.

Don Firth

18 May 07 - 10:16 PM (#2056086)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Muttley

That spelling of Lindsay is generally reserved for the clan name Lindsay.

The name is sometimes - though not popularly - also applied to the Lime or the Rue which are the official floral emblems of the Lindsay Clan

So Lindsay could be a poetic name for the Lime Tree or the herb Rue.

I would think linseed would be a bit of a stretch.

Muttley (Yes, I'm a Lindsay)

18 May 07 - 10:41 PM (#2056110)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Sorcha

Then, there is 'linsey-woolsey'. A weave of linen and wool used for stockings. Maybe a search for 'linsey' would help?

19 May 07 - 06:22 AM (#2056281)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: GUEST,Janine

There's: "I'll gie you a Linsey petticote" in the Bonnie Lass O'Fyfi-o"

19 May 07 - 07:14 AM (#2056310)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Geoff the Duck

Quick web search finds
Down by the Greenwood Side
as sung by Nana Mouskouri amongst others - refrain is "Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh".
A different version of the same song is in Digitrad as "The Cruel Mother".

Four digitrad songs contain "linsey" as linen clothing.


19 May 07 - 12:30 PM (#2056473)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Polly Squeezebox

The suggestion from Muttley that this might be a reference to Rue, one of the floral emblems of the Lindsay Clan, makes a lot of sense. Rose is, of course the emblem of love. The plant Rue has for many centuries been used as a herbal remedy for getting rid of unwanted pregnancies. It just seems a shame the Cruel Mother didn't take enough of it beforehand and had to resort to murder of the babe/babes after birthing.

19 May 07 - 02:00 PM (#2056520)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Jack Campin

I very much doubt whether that sort of contrived clan symbolism ever made it into a song. There is nothing else in the song that refers to any family specifically.

I can't find any reference to "linsey" being used in isolation from the phrase "linsey-woolsey", but flax is used as a metaphor for fair hair in both Scots ("lintwhite") and English ("flaxen"). "Rose" also characterizes complexion. So I would guess the line is telling us the woman had rosy cheeks and fair hair.

Variants of this song tend to attract nonsense refrains. "Bonny Saint Johnstone that stands upon Tay"? Er, why????

19 May 07 - 03:45 PM (#2056587)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Malcolm Douglas

That was 'The Two Sisters', Jack.

The phrase in question wasn't especially common in tradition, and seems mostly to have been restricted to versions found in Aberdeenshire (where there is always the possibility that Peter Buchan's influence may have played a part in 'standardising' oral versions). Its popularity nowadays is probably largely down to recordings made by Ewan MacColl and others, from which a lot of people have learned the song.

In the relatively small number that do use it, it occurs as 'the lindie', 'malindie', 'the linsie', 'the lindsay' and so on. Pete Shepheard (sleeve notes, Ye Shine Whar Ye Stan: Jock Duncan. Springthyme SPRCD 1039, 1996) glosses 'lindie' as 'the linden or lime tree'; others have made the same connection, and it is one possibility.

Annie G Gilchrist (Journal of the Folk-Song Society VII (22) 1919, 82) conjectured that the ballad might have been 'brought to Britain by the Northmen' and continued, 'the "rose and the lindie" suggests a corruption of a Norse refrain in which the word "rosenlund" occurs - "rosenlund" (literally rose wood) according to Dr Prior (Ancient Danish Ballads, Introduction, p xxxvi) being the exact equivalent of our "greenwood," and, like it, the scene of many ballad adventures.'

Of course, that pre-supposes that Danish forms of the story are older than British; and Steve Gardham has pointed out that the song was not found in Denmark until 1870, 25 years after Grundtvig had published a translation into Danish of a version collated from several Scots texts. Another possibility, then, though it may well be an anachronistic red herring.

What does the phrase mean? Despite the ingenious and arcane speculation in which people love to indulge when such topics come up, the answer may merely be 'nothing in particular'. Such refrains don't need to have any function beyond euphony, and often turn up in other, unrelated songs as well, so there is no guarantee that the words they contain have anything much to do with the song in any case. If we need the refrain to mean something, then Jack's guess is as good as any, and has the advantage of being straightforward and logical.

19 May 07 - 04:10 PM (#2056605)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Geoff the Duck

Mention of linsey as in linen clothing in Digitrad (not linsey-woolsey).
Two are variants of the same story.

19 May 07 - 04:41 PM (#2056623)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Malcolm Douglas

It was a very common word and naturally occurs in quite a lot of songs.

The Journal reference above should have been to volume VI, not VII as I mis-typed it.

19 May 07 - 04:46 PM (#2056626)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Barb'ry

Thanks to everyone for their input - fascinating facts, as usual. Malcolm, thank you for your insightful comments but I would like to add that I did not want to know the meaning of the refrain itself, rather the meaning of the word 'lindsay'. I am quite aware that many refrains (and vocabulary) in traditional songs may have lost or hidden meanings, or that the 'folk process' may have altered the words to such an extent that they bear little resemblance to the original. However, I find it interesting to see if the meaning of a word can still be identified and I rather think others do too.

20 May 07 - 04:23 AM (#2056850)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: JohnInKansas

I've always read it as "linsey" and as a contraction for Linsey-woolsey.

The rose is "beauty and gentility" while "linsey-woolsey" is "course and common," in a number of literary usages.

Not that I've really thought a lot about the details in the songs where it pops up.


20 May 07 - 02:57 PM (#2057094)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?

Linseed, from which comes Linseed Oil (which has been used as a solvent for paint and maybe still is) comes I think from Flax, whose botanic name is Linum (e.g. Linum perenne for Perennial Flax).

20 May 07 - 11:19 PM (#2057354)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Liz the Squeak

Linseed is still used as a solvent or carrier for oil paint, usually in restoration circumstances as it takes several months to dry out properly. When our church was restored to its Victorian glory about 10 years ago, our Rood screen (a cross or Calvary scene on a roof beam at the entrance to the choir or chancel of a church) was repainted in traditional materials. A foray up into the rafters 6 months later to fix a speaker lead showed it was still slightly tacky in the creases.

Holland, linsey, cambric, fair and Irish are all types of linen, the names derived from the area of flax cultivation or particular style of cloth. Cambric, some of the finest linen, came from the Hugenot weavers at Cambrai. It was a Hugenot refugee that took his methods to Ireland and built up the industry there. Fair is the term used to describe the palest bleached linens used for church purposes. Linsey or linsey-woolsey would be a linen or linen/wool mix that the lower classes wore. Holland, cambric and fair were all fine linens that were used by the upper classes - they were paler, finer and harder to produce.

I suppose the modern day equivalent would be velour track suit (the "chav" suit) as being the "uniform" of the lower classes.


21 May 07 - 07:42 AM (#2057530)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Muttley

Hells Bells Jack - fair hair and rosy skin??? And you reckon a reference to the Lime or Rue plants is stretching things.

I may be biased, but I reckon it's less of one than fair hair and rosy cheeks!

Muttley of the Linden Clan

21 May 07 - 11:22 AM (#2057695)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: GUEST,leeneia

"Rose and linsie" just doesn't make any kind of sense, so I think it's a corruption for "lily."

There is an idea about, that ballad refrains that deal with the devil or the supernatural had magic words meant to protect the singer. Some people like to sneer at that idea, but it makes sense to me.

For example: Jennifer (gentian) gentle and Rose Marie (Virgin Mary.)
             The dove (Holy Spirit) flies over the mulberry tree.

Before modern breeding programs, there were few spectacular flowers. "Lily" was a general term for any flower that was really large and showy. Gentian, with its vivid blue, was considered a powerful plant, too.

Both the rose and the lily were special to the Virgin Mother. Therefore, in the Cruel Mother ballad, I vote for "lily."

Don't ask me for a bibliography on all this. I read a lot, that's all I can tell you.

21 May 07 - 04:21 PM (#2057894)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Liz the Squeak

The idea of using a flower name instead of a Deity or holy person is a logical one... One of the commandments is Thou shalt not take the name of thy Lord God in vain - this was often extended to the Holy Family and the Archangels. So using lily to mean the Holy Virgin was frequent - it is, after all, her flower... The rose was more often masculine or the Rose of Sharon (not the hybrid tea or floribunda variety that we are familiar with these days) - Lo, what is this rose, sprungen from Jesse's stem (Es Ist ein ros' enstprungen...)


21 May 07 - 04:56 PM (#2057914)
Subject: RE: Child #20 - what is Lindsay?
From: Stringsinger

I think that the Lindsay is a cousin of the "Pale Arononautus", a lone wildwood flower which is found in mythical botanical journals.