Thursday, October 25, 2012

Counting out

Remember "counting out"? Do kids still "count out"?

Consider a count among six children:

(1)Einie (2)meenie (3)meinie (4)mo, (5)catch (6)a feller (1) by the (2)toe, (3)if he (4)hollers (5)let him (6)go, (1)einie (2)meenie (3)meinie (4)mo. Number 4 is "out."

Back in the early 70s, Kenneth Goldstein published an ethnographic study of counting out rhymes. By extending the rhyme, a clever counter could count out a child other than number 4:

(5)My (6)mother (1)says (2)that (3)you (4)are (5)it.

Or further:

(6)But (1)I (2)say (3)that (4)you (5)are (6)out.

Alternately, the counter can secure advantage by selecting among "allowable" rhymes, depending on the number of children:

Andy/ Mandy/ sugar/ candy/ out/ goes/ you. Seven counts.

Inka/ bink/ a bottle/ of ink/ I/ say/ you/ stink. Eight counts.

According to Goldstein, these and other strategies require a certain amount of insight by the counter, and are considered legitimate and clever by the other children. The most common form of manipulation by the counter, however, is simply to skip a beat. This is frowned upon by the other children as "dishonest" and "against the rules."

Within the game of counting out there is, for any group of children, an accepted repertoire of rhymes, a traditionally established number of beats, and established ways of setting up the count, says Goldstein. The system is sufficiently rigid to give most children a sense that "all is fair." Still, within the rigidity of the system there is room for a clever counter to achieve a desired outcome.

What, pray, does this have to do with science, or anything else for that matter? More tomorrow.