Tuesday 28 April 2020

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #10: WHUPPITY STOORIE

 Illustration by Kate Leiper: www.kateleiper.co.uk/Instagram:kate_leiper_artist

This Scottish tale is included in Robert Chambers’ ‘Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ (1841 edition) and comes from the manuscript of Chambers’ friend Charles K. Sharpe. It’s presented as if narrated by one ‘Nurse Jennie’ of Annandale whose Lowland Scots tongue is so vivid and racy (whether she actually existed or not!) that it would be a shame to anglicize it. So I have simply added a variety of explanatory notes, some within the text and some footnotes. I'm sure we Sassenachs can manage! 

The heroine of the story is ‘the goodwife o’ Kittelrumpit’. The narrator suggests this place may be situated “somewhere amang the Debatable Ground”. In fact I think it’s a joke, a made-up name with a comic and mildly rude meaning;‘Tickle-arse’ would be my best bet, though I’m no Scots scholar, so if anyone knows better, do let me know. The Debatable Ground does exist: it is the much fought-over area between Scotland and England which, in the 16th century, was the haunt of the Border Reivers.

The tale is one of the many variants of the Rumpelstiltskin story, but a lot funnier and livelier. The goodwife and the green fairy woman are splendidly-matched antagonists – two energetic, determined women with sharp tongues in their heads: but the goodwife wins hands down when she turns the tables on her foe. The lovely illustration is by Scottish artist Kate Leiper and you can see more of her beautiful work by clicking the link below the picture: also here: http://kateleiper.co.uk/

The story begins when the goodwife’s husband goes off to the fair one day and never comes back: he was “a vaguing sort of body” anyway and not to be depended upon. Left to fend for herself – “A’body said they were sorry for her but naebody helpit her, whilk’s a common case, sirs,” – she has nothing left but her cottage a “sookin’ lad bairn” (that's a baby boy still at the breast) and her pride and joy, a “soo” (sow) which is about to give birth to piglets. If all goes well, the goodwife’s stock will be much increased. But one day she goes to the pigsty to fill the sow’s trough, and shock! horror! what should she find but the sow “lying on her back, grunting and groaning and ready to gie up the ghost”? 

Read on! 

I trow this was a new stoon [blow] to the goodwife’s heart; she sat doon on the knocking-stane[1] wi’ her bairn on her knee and grat [cried] harder than she ever did for the loss of her ain goodman.

                Noo, the cot-hoose of Kittlerumpit was built on a brae[2] with a muckle fir-wood behind it, o’ whilk ye’ll hear mair afore lang. So the goodwife, while she was dichtin her een [wiping her eyes] chances to look doon the brae, and what does she see but an auld woman, almost like a lady, coming slowly up the way. She was buskit in green, all but a white short apron, and a black velvet hood, and a steeple-crowned beaver hat on her head. She had a lang walking stick, as lang as herself, in her hand – the sort of staff that auld men and women helpit themselves with lang syne; I see nae sic staffs noo, sirs.

                Aweel, when the goodwife saw the green gentlewoman near her, she rose and made a curtsie; and “Madam,” quo’ she, weeping, “I’m the maist misfortunate woman alive.”

                “I dinna wish to hear pipers’ news and fiddlers’ tales,” quo’ the green woman. “I ken ye’ve lost your goodman – we had waur losses at the Shirra Muir[3]; and I ken that your soo’s sick. Noo, what will ye gie me to cure her?”

                “Onything your leddyship’s madam likes,” quo’ the witless goodwife, never guessing who she had to deal with. 

                “Let’s wet thumbs on that bargain[4],” quo’ the green woman, so thumbs were wet, I warrant ye, and into the pigsty madam marches. 

                She glowers at the soo for a lang time, and then begins to mutter to herself what the goodwife couldna well understand; it soundit like “Pitter patter, Haly watter.” Then she took oot of her pouch a wee bottle wi’ something like oil in it, and rubs the soo with it around the snout, behind the lugs and on the tip o’ the tail. “Get up, beast,” quo’ the green woman, and nae sooner said than done – up bangs the soo wi’ a grunt and awa’ to her trough for her breakfast. 

                The goodwife o’ Kittelrumpit was a joyful goodwife noo, and wad hae kissed the very hem o’ the green madam’s gown-tail, but she wadna let her. “I’m no fond o’ demonstrations,” said she, “noo that I hae righted your sick beast, let’s finish our bargain. Ye’ll no find me an unreasonable, greedy body – I like aye to do a good turn for a small reward – all I ask, and will have, is that lad bairn in your bosom.”

                The goodwife o’ Kittelrumpit let oot a skirl like a stickit gryse [stuck piglet]. The green woman was a fairy, nae doubt of it, so she prays and weeps and kneels and begs and flytes, but it wouldna do.  “Ye may spare your din,” quo’ the fairy, “skirling as if I was a deaf as a doornail; but this I’ll tell ye – by the law we live on, I canna take your bairn till the third day after this; and no then, if ye can tell me my right name.” And off gaes madam around the pigsty end,  and the goodwife falls down in a swoon behind the knocking-stane.

                Aweel, the goodwife couldna sleep that night for weeping and a’ the next day the same, cuddling her bairn till she near squeezed its breath out; but the second day she thinks o’ taking a walk in the wood, and wi’ the bairn in her arms she sets out and gaes far in amang the trees where there was an old quarry hole grown o’er wi’ gorse, and a bonny spring well in the middle of it. Before she came very nigh, she hears the birring of a lint-wheel [a wheel for spinning flax], and a voice lilting a sang; sae the wife creeps quietly amang the bushes, and keeks [peeps] ower the brow of the quarry, and what does she see but the green fairy kemping at her wheel and singing:

“Little kens our good dame at hame
That Whuppitie Stoorie is my name!” 

                “Ah ha!” thinks the wife. “I’ve gotten the mason’s word at last: the de’il gie them joy that tell’t it!”  And she gaed hame far lichter than she came out, as you may guess, laughing like a madcap wi’ the thought of begunkin [befooling] the auld green fairy.

                Aweel, ye must ken that this goodwife was a jocular woman and aye merry when her heart wasna sair overladen, sae she thinks to have some sport wi’ the fairy: and at the appointit time she puts the bairn behind the knocking-stane and sits down on it hersel’. Syne she pulls her nightcap ajee [awry] ower her left lug [ear], crooks her mouth on t’ither side, as if she were weeping – and a filthy face she made, ye may be sure. She hadna lang to wait, for up the brae mounts the green fairy, neither lame nor lazy, and lang afore she got near the knocking-stane, she skirls out, 

                “Goodwife o’ Kittelrumpit, ye ken weel what I come for – stand and deliver!” 

                The wife pretends to greet sairer [weep more sorely] than before, and wrings her nieves [fists], and falls on her knees, wi’: “Och, sweet madam mistress, spare my only bairn and take the weary soo!”

                “The de’il take the soo, for my share,” quo’ the fairy. “I come na here for swine’s flesh. Dinna be contramawcious, hizzie [hussy, wench], but gie me the gett [child; begotten] instantly!”

                “Ochone, dear leddy mine,” quo’ the goodwife, “forbear my poor bairn and take mysel’!”

                “The de’il’s in the daft jade,” quo the fairy, looking like the far-end o’ a fiddle[5] [sour], “She’s clean dementit! Wha in all the earthly warld, wi’ half an ee in their heads, would ever want wi’ the likes of thee?”

                I trow this set up the wife o’ Kittelrumpit’s birse [put up her hackles]; for though she had two bleared een and a lang red neb [nose] forbye, she thought hersel’ as bonny as the best o’ them. Sae she bangs aff her knees, sets her nightcap[6] straight, folds her two hands in front of her, makes a curstie down to the ground, and, “In troth, fair madam,” quo’ she, “I might hae had the wit to ken that the likes o’ me is nae fair to tie the warst shoe strings o’ the high and mighty princess, Whuppity Stoorie!

                Gin a fluff o’ gunpowder had come out o’ the ground, it couldna hae made the fairy loup [leap] higher than she did; then down she came again, thump on her shoe-heels, and whirling around, she ran down the brae, screeching for rage like an owlet chased wi’ the witches.

                The goodwife o’ Kittelrumpit laughed till she was like to ryve [split]; then she takes up her bairn and goes into her hoose, singing all the way; 

A goo and a gitty, my bonny wee tyke,
Ye’s noo hae your four-oories;
Sin’ we’ve gi’en Nick a bane to pyke
Wi’ his wheels and his Whuppity Stoories.”[7]

[1] ‘the knocking-stane’: a stone with a hollowed out basin in which grain could be ground by pounding it with a wooden mallet.

[2] ‘brae’: a steepish hillside; the brow of a hill.

[3] ‘waur losses at the Shirra Muir’: Chambers notes: “This was a common saying formerly, when people were regretting trifles.” The Battle of Sherrifmuir near Stirling in 1715 ended the Jacobite Rebellion and the Earl of Mar’s attempt to place James Stuart, the ‘Old Pretender’, on the throne

[4] Licking thumbs and pressing them together (an exchange of bodily fluids) was a country way of sealing a bargain. 

[5] “looking like the far-end o’ a fiddle’: ‘A person of sour countenance is said to ‘hae a face like the far en’ of a French fiddle’: G. Fraser ‘Lowland Lore’, p156, 1880

[6] Nightcap: in the original Scots, ‘mutch-croon’.

[7] ‘A goo and a gitty’: nonsense words to coo to to a baby. ‘Tyke’: literally a dog: naughty little lad. ‘Four-oories’ – I have no idea; Scots speakers please help!  ‘Nick’: Old Nick, the devil, to whom the goodwife assumes the fairy belongs. ‘a bane to pyke’: a bone to pick.


  1. And a Scotswoman of my acquantaince has swiftly been in touch to add: "Whuppity-Stoorie would be one who whups up stour. (whips up dust) possibly a reference to broomsticks, or running around fast, or creating a dust cloud of mystery. (please note two words in Scots for dust: stour: mineral dust such as dried mud, dusty roads, etc." (Could be a little dust whirlwind on a dry road?) She also adds: "Four-oorie I would guess at just being four hours sleep." Thankyou, Lesley Mc Fadyen!

    1. Whoops, and I missed Lesley's second Scots word for dust: "Oose: dust under the bed, fluff, often on the tops of wardrobes, what you scrape out of the crevices of your navel."

  2. An interesting variation on Rumplestiltskin indeed! I wonder which story came first?

    1. Probably one of those unanswerable questions, Sue! But although I'm using the 3rd edition (1870) of the 1841 version of this tale, part of Robert Chambers' 'Popular Rhymes etc' was published in 1827. That of course still post-dates the Grimms' 1812 Kinder- und Hausmarchen, in which Rumpelstiltskin was collected. The Grimms however note a variety of other forms of the tale! And Tom Tit Tot from Norfolk is yet another version.