To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
48 messages

rhymes for counting Magpies

28 Mar 03 - 03:20 PM (#920685)
Subject: BS: Magpies
From: Tig

I know various versions of the rhymes for counting magpies - one for sorrow, two for joy etc but today there were ELEVEN of the little b******* in the field next to the house.

My rhymes only go up to 10. Any suggestions for 11 plus?

28 Mar 03 - 03:29 PM (#920692)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Schantieman

I think they stopped that in about 1975!



28 Mar 03 - 03:43 PM (#920706)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: katlaughing

What are the others, Tig, 3-10, so we don't duplicate? I've not heard them before..

28 Mar 03 - 03:47 PM (#920710)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Firecat

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told,
Eight's a letter,
Nine's a wish,
Ten's a bird you must not miss!

28 Mar 03 - 03:50 PM (#920713)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Schantieman

ITV's children's programme, Magpie in the ?70s used to have eight's a wish & nine's a kiss. But, outdated exam references apart, I'm afraid I can't help with the Q.


28 Mar 03 - 04:06 PM (#920730)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: katlaughing

Eleven will send you to heaven! **bg**

28 Mar 03 - 04:18 PM (#920744)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: C-flat

Well Tig, if I found eleven of these b******* next door to me, my house would be up for sale!
My significant other is an ardent Sunderland fan (deadly enemies of the magpies) and it would be too much for her to bear!!!

28 Mar 03 - 05:29 PM (#920812)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: The Walrus


I learned the rhymne as:

One for sorrow
Two for mirth
Three's a wedding*
Four's a birth
Five is il'er
Six is gold
Seven's a tale ne'er to be told
Eight is Heaven
Nine is Hell
Ten is the De'il in his own sel'

(I've also heard "Three's a Funeral...")

Just my two penn'orth.


28 Mar 03 - 05:33 PM (#920819)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: GUEST,alinact

Yeah and the b******* beat Richmond last night (Aussie Rules, OK).

Not that I barrack for Richmond, I just hate Collingwood. (As an Essendon supporter, other Aussie Rules followers will understand).


28 Mar 03 - 05:50 PM (#920837)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Mr Red

One more for the dozen - he'll bring his cousin.

28 Mar 03 - 05:57 PM (#920840)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Clinton Hammond

Any more than that, I'll get mayself a cat!

28 Mar 03 - 05:57 PM (#920842)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)

In Kentucky it's bluebirds, not magpies. It goes up to nine only, but you keep on saying it (or singing it) until the flock rises to fly, and whatever you're saying at the moment will 'tell your fortune.'

29 Mar 03 - 02:47 AM (#921091)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: mouldy

Tig's heard about my gran having a similar rhyme (which may have been conveniently "used") for sneezes. It only goes up to seven (which is plenty for sneezes, I suppose).

Once a wish
Twice a kiss
Three times a letter
Four times something better
Five times silver
Six times gold
Seven times a secret to be told

I wonder if it was originally a local (S. Derbys/S. Notts) variation on the magpies?


29 Mar 03 - 06:12 AM (#921122)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Helen

I've only ever heard it up to seven, here in east coast Oz. :

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a letter,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
and seven for a secret
that's never been told.

I don't follow Aussie Rules, alinact, but I do know that the Magpies are one of the teams.

We have hardly had any magpies around in the last few years, but this summer there were lots. I like their conversations - very musical.


29 Mar 03 - 09:59 AM (#921179)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: JennyO

The one I always heard from my grandmother went:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three a disappointment
Four meet your boy
Five a letter
Six something better
Seven a wish
Eight a kiss
Nine an engagement
Ten a marriage
Eleven a birth
Twelve a death

I guess, if you want to make it longer, following on from a birth, you could insert twelve a divorce, thirteen a property settlement, fourteen a second marriage and so on, and finish up with death at the end, depending on how many times you get married and divorced. If you believe in reincarnation, you could keep going after that too. Not sure where magpies come into it, though.

Jenny :-)

29 Mar 03 - 10:56 AM (#921216)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Beccy

A dozen plus one and now you have fun.

29 Mar 03 - 11:21 AM (#921238)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Troll

When you reach ten,
Begin again.


29 Mar 03 - 02:16 PM (#921308)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Joe Offer

I think that in most places in the world, magpies are black and white, with black bills. Not so in the Central Valley of California - the magpies there have yellow bills, and the black-white coloration is just a bit different. We don't have magpies at all here in the Sierra foothills, a 45-minute drive from my old home, and I miss them. They bullied all the smaller birds away, but they were the most entertaining and intelligent birds I've encountered.
And now, back to your regular program...
-Joe Offer-

29 Mar 03 - 02:28 PM (#921313)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Tig

I knew the one for sorrow, two for joy and the one for sorrow version to ten, and the one for sorrow,two for mirth version to seven but not any more. varients are wonderful things and I am fascinated by them. My college special study was done on varients on childrens playground singing games.

Today we were back to the usual 2-4 magpies in the field so maybe they were holding a birthday party yesterday! - and in answer to Clinton, I have! (a round dozen plus 2 tinies waiting to be big enough for their own human).

29 Mar 03 - 02:29 PM (#921315)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: artbrooks

Eleven-get a gun, and have some fun. Not that I would personally advocate the use of firearms or violent attacks upon Nature's creatures, you understand...

29 Mar 03 - 04:28 PM (#921366)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)

My "little boys,"(in their forties now!)loved a bedtime story I told them- my own childhood memory about a flock of bluebirds, and the rhyme my mother told me then. Over the weeks, the story grew into a song, with & for my boys. It is recorded on my CD, "Childhood Songs."
Also, John McCutcheon and others have recorded it, and all children love the story. (No advertising is meant).

30 Mar 03 - 07:37 AM (#921662)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Keith A of Hertford

Magpies are booming here in England. I have heard them blamed for at least some of the decline in other garden birds.
Joe, they look black and white at a distance, but close up the black is a mixture of deep rich colours.
One for sorrow,

30 Mar 03 - 07:46 AM (#921664)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Schantieman

We used to have a bird box on the wall in our garden. One year a pair of blue tits nested in it. We watched them from the window to-ing & fro-ing with food for the chicks & all the darling little heads poking out, preparatory to fledging. Then a magpie (or maybe a pair) pulled the roof off and ate the lot.

All part of the garden food web, of course, but annoying just the same.   They are thought to be responsible for some of the decline in garden songbirds, which is serious in some places.

Beautiful plumage.

30 Mar 03 - 07:50 AM (#921667)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Schantieman

Sorry - hit the submit button by accident.

I was going to go on and ask about the song that (I think) Johnny Collins used to sing about magpies. The chorus runs through the rhyme as far as seven, and ends with "Devil, Devil, I defy thee!" three times, follwed by a spit. Apparently this is what you're s'posed to do if you see one on its own, to ward of the bad luck.

Does anyone know the verses?


(and btw, the 'darling little heads' bit was supposed to be ironically anthropomorphic!)

30 Mar 03 - 08:59 AM (#921692)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: JennyO

That would be "The Magpie" - in the Digitrad under M.

One of our local Sydney groups does a good rendition of it.

The rhyme in it is close to the one in Firecat's post.

Is this turning into a music thread?


30 Mar 03 - 09:01 AM (#921694)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: Schantieman

That's the one!   Thank you. I must remember to look there first! Now for the tune...


30 Mar 03 - 09:30 AM (#921710)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: JennyO

Of course I know the tune, but I don't know how to convey it to you. I did find a website which has the lyrics and guitar chords for it.


30 Mar 03 - 09:39 AM (#921715)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: GUEST,Schantieman (gone cookieless)

I think I've found in in an old thread, thanks. There are a load of letters, presumably notes, separated by what look like bar lines. Now I just need to work out what they all mean. What I really need is a sound file I can play on Windows Media layer.

Do I know you?

30 Mar 03 - 09:50 AM (#921722)
Subject: RE: BS: Magpies
From: JennyO

I doubt it. I live in Sydney, Australia, although I was in the UK in 2001 with my choir, the Solidarity Choir. We sang at Sidmouth.

I was looking for a sound file myself, but I couldn't find one.


31 Mar 03 - 03:50 AM (#922282)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: Dave Bryant

Tere is a tradition that if you see only one magpie, you should say "Greetings to you Mr Magpie and also to your wife". You are thus implying a second bird and therefore changing "Sorrow" to "Joy".

Has anyone else come across this or any variants ?

31 Mar 03 - 10:34 AM (#922530)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: Tig

W4e say "Good morning Mr Magpie, how's your family?"

31 Mar 03 - 02:50 PM (#922790)
Subject: RE: Magpies

"Good morning Mr Magpie. I hope you are well, both you and your family"

01 Apr 03 - 11:33 AM (#923616)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: Mrs.Duck

Interesting how so many rhymes are up to eight. As I was scouring the trees for magpie no 2 this morning (observation by governor looming) and not finding it I remembered other rhymes we used to say mainly when counting prune stones
Tinker, tailor soldier sailor
Rich man poor man beggarman thief (8 again)
Followed by
One I love
Two I love
Three I love I say
Four I love with all my heart
Five I cast away
Six he tarries
Seven marries
Eight he steals my heart away
But then we did love prunes in our house!!
Maybe there is some significance to eight or they just couldn't use any more fingers

01 Apr 03 - 11:53 AM (#923633)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: JenEllen

Thank you all, this has been a joy to read.

01 Apr 03 - 11:58 AM (#923637)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: JudeL

We used to do Tig's list as a part of a skipping rhyme that I can't quite remember that started off something about "a hop and a jump for my fortune to see, *** **** my true love to be, and when will I marry, and where will I live, *** *** " then followed by the lists

tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
(there was also a list of homes which started with a castle but the rest of which I can't remember)
this year, next year, some time, never, silk, satin, cotton, rags

Being more than 30 years ago I can't remember it all. Sorry

01 Apr 03 - 11:34 PM (#924131)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)

JudeL- In Liverpool many years ago, we found parts of your list in a ball-bouncing rigamarole;

Cherry stones, cherry stones,
Cherry stones upon my plate-
One-two-three-four and there'r lots more,
Every one counts a wish:

Tinker,tailor,soldier, sailor,
Rich man, poor man, beggerman, thief-
Lady, baby, gypsy queen,
Will you, won't you marry me?

The "Cherry stones" part was always straightforward ball-bouncing, but each time the "Tinker, tailor" chorus was reached, the rhythm was shifted, e.g. TINK (two bounces)ER (one bounce), and so've all done it so you know what I mean!

02 Apr 03 - 01:36 AM (#924211)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: mouldy

We also had a skipping rhyme in N. Derbyshire, the verse of which I can't remember, but it involved the skipper's fortune with "lady, baby, gipsy, queen, rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief" skipped "pepper" speed until it snagged on the appropriate word. I have a vague recollection of a chorus beginning with "king", and maybe another with "castle"... but it could be my memory acting up. I seem to remember a series of short verses to do with who the skipper would marry, where they would live and what their fortune would be. It was 40 years ago, and it was only played by a few of us at a time with our rope tied to a lamppost when two or more could be found to play out!


02 Apr 03 - 07:50 AM (#924374)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: Li'l Aussie Bleeder

and there was coach, carriage something or other then buggy...I think that is how it went. Gosh certainly pricked my memory.

02 Apr 03 - 07:53 AM (#924379)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: Li'l Aussie Bleeder

I know, I remeber now   Coach, Carriage, Wheelbarrow, Dunnycart...that was how you would get to the church.

02 Apr 03 - 07:46 PM (#924885)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: Bearheart

An odd coincidence-- my spouse has just been reading aloud (for the second time) the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel "Carpe Jugulum"-- a spoof (among other things) on vampire lore. Since in it the vampires do magpies instead of bats, he uses the old rhyme to make commentary. The version he uses is the "two is mirth" one quoted above, and since he's set the tale in a setting that takes off on rural Britain, I'm thinking that's where he borrowed the rhyme from as well. Any Pratchett fans out there who might know? Being a Yank I know I miss some of his references...

03 Apr 03 - 01:47 AM (#925039)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: mouldy

Being British, we stodd a chance of going to church in the dustcart! Thanks for jogging my memory back! Just shows how these rhymes travel, doesn't it?


03 Apr 03 - 03:17 AM (#925068)
Subject: RE: Magpies
From: Dave Bryant

All we need on this thread now is for MMario to post a recipe for Magpie Pie !

30 Jun 11 - 05:43 PM (#3179320)
Subject: RE: rhymes for counting Magpies
From: GUEST,Ted Blowers

A lot of the rhymes like rich man poor man begger man thief were used to pick sides for various games. another was Iney mene miny moe catch a nigger by the toe if he hollers let him go iney mene miny moe.

30 Jun 11 - 05:51 PM (#3179324)
Subject: RE: rhymes for counting Magpies
From: Joe_F

When I was little, you counted the buttons on your shirt to see what you would grow up to be:

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief.

09 Jan 19 - 06:44 AM (#3970720)
Subject: RE: rhymes for counting Magpies
From: FreddyHeadey

pleasantly dark :

One for sorrow
Thick as her blood
Two for joy
Sun after the flood
Three for a girl
Eyes open forever
Four for a boy
Who’s ever so clever
Five for silver
The gleam of his knife
Six for gold
Why he’s taken her life
Seven for a secret
Never to be told
Eight for a wish
To never grow old
Nine for a kiss
Of forbidden desire
Ten for a bird
Stole the tongue of a liar
Eleven for a funeral
The coffin so small
Twelve for Hell
Through broken glass they’ll crawl
And Thirteen for the Devil
Who’s come to take them all


09 Jan 19 - 07:03 AM (#3970725)
Subject: RE: rhymes for counting Magpies
From: FreddyHeadey

from "British Bird Lovers"

Many people have grown up knowing One For Sorrow, Two For Joy, the popular magpienursery rhyme where the number of birds counted at any one time will determine whether you have bad luck or good luck. 

Probably the most well known version recited is as follows:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.

However, there are a number of alternative versions and a longer rhyme which is local to Lancashire counts up to 13 magpies with an additional 6 lines:

Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.

The earliest version of the rhyme was recorded in 1780 in a note in John Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities. John Brand was an English antiquarian and Church of England clergyman who was appointed Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1784. The phrase "popular antiquities" later became known as folklore, a term coined by William John Thoms in 1846. It was a much simpler version with just 4 lines:

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a funeral
And four for birth.

In 1846 the rhyme was added to in Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons by Michael Aislabie Denham, an English merchant and collector of folklore.

Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self.

Yet, another longer version is to be found in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

One's sorrow, 
Two's mirth, 
Three's a wedding, 
Four's a birth, 
Five's a christening, 
Six a dearth, 
Seven's heaven, 
Eight is hell, 
And nine's the devil his old self.

Another version was written for the popular children's TV programme Magpie which ran from 1968 to 1980 and replaced many of the older regional variations of the rhyme. The theme tune was composed and played by the Spencer Davis Group under the alias The Murgatroyd Band, just after Steve Winwood had left to join the supergroup Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. 

Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.

The song started off similar to original rhymes but had an additional tenth bird that was not to be missed; in this case that was of course the next episode of the series. 

Although all these songs and rhymes are most often associated with magpies, they can also be used to count other corvids such as jackdaws, ravens and crows, particularly in America where magpies are not as common. 

09 Jan 19 - 07:12 AM (#3970726)
Subject: RE: rhymes for counting Magpies
From: GUEST,Martin Ryan

For a number of years now, I've been travelling to Spain once or twice a year to act as a volunteer tutor/conversationalist for adults learning English. (Check out "VaughanTown", if you're interested in the idea). As part of the entertainment element of the programme, I usually do a short spot where I introduce a couple of traditional songs to them and get them to sing choruses. Dave Dodds' "The Magpie" is always a great favourite! I confess I drop the "Devil, Devil ..." section - not through squeamishness but just because, for me, it reduces the chant-like quality of the rest of the song.

Incidentally - I always include a song in the Irish language in the set - and use it to lead into a few words about the interaction between the two languages.


09 Jan 19 - 03:27 PM (#3970827)
Subject: RE: rhymes for counting Magpies
From: Helen

Back in March 2003, I posted the rhyme that we used to say about 50 years ago in east coast Oz. We used to count crows or ravens and not magpies. When I worked in a public library, a book was added to the collection and it was about counting magpies. It was a beautiful picture book for small children.

As far as I remember, that was the first time I knew that the rhyme was also used for magpies.

Also, I'm guessing that the rock band named Counting Crows took the name from these rhymes.