Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

Tail Toddle

Tune: The Chevalier’s Muster Roll

Tail toddle, tail toddle,
Tammy gars ma tail toddle
But and ben wi diddle doddle
Tammy gars ma tail toddle

Oor guidwife held ow'r tae Fife
Fur tae buy a coal riddle
Lang ere she cam back again
Tammy gart ma tail toddle

Jessie Mack she gied a plack
Helen Wallace gied a boddle
Quo the bride "It's ower little
Fur tae mend a broken doddle"

Twain, twain, made the bed,
Twain, twain, lay th'gither,
When the bed began to heat,
The yin lay in abin the tither

When ah'm deid ah'm oot o date,
When ah'm seek ah'm fu o trouble,
When ah'm weel ah stap aboot an
Tammy gars ma tail toddle

Words:
Abin: above
Ben: inner or best room
Boddle: small copper coin, worth two pence Scots, 17th to 19th centuries
But: outer room
But and Ben: everywhere
Doddle : the male genitals, according to The Concise Scots Dictionary. But also here “broken doddle” would be broken maidenhead.
Gars: makes
Gart: made
Guidwife: mistress of the house
Held ow’r tae: Went over to, headed off for
Ower: too
Plack: small coin, worth about four Scots pennies, 15th to 18th centuries
Riddle: a coarse sieve
Seek: sick
Stap aboot: stride about
Tail: posterior
Tail-toddle: sexual intercourse, according to The Concise Scots Dictionary
Th’gither: together
Tither: other
Twain: two
Toddle: play or toy with, walk with uncertain steps


 First brought to Sangschule by Christine Kydd and more recently by Scott Murray of Sangsters, this is a cheerful song about sex, which can safely be sung in polite company because of the archaic words, which draw a thin veil over events.

The second verse seems to relate to the ‘penny wedding’ - wedding celebrations when guests would contribute money towards food and especially drink.

It appears in The Merry Muses published by the Anchor Press in 1966. The editor’s note says “ the probability is that here is a genuine folk composition merely ‘tidied up’ and knocked into shape by Burns.” Their glossary gives “Tammy made my tail toddle” as Tammy “made my behind go to and fro.”

The song is also found in Come Gies A Sang as sung by Hamish Henderson. The editor, Sheila Douglas, says “Hamish has, on more than one occasion, sung this for dancers to do a reel.” She describes the song as a “piece of mouth music” and points out that Hamish’s version has one verse more than the one in The Merry Muses – “Twa and twa” which we also have as “Twain, twain”.

Hamish singing Tail Toddle (and Wap and Rowe) appears on an Alan Lomax recording, “Scotland” from his World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, vol.3.
The note says that Hamish learned “Tail Toddle” from an old gentleman named Ramsay, who lived in Glenshee, Perthshire and recorded the song in 1951. Hamish did not sing the “Twa and twa” verse on that recording. Lomax, the distinguished American collector, refers to this as a diddling song, with verses made up of nonsense words, but these words perhaps had more meaning than he knew.

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