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International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 332


Master of All Masters

Book Name:

English Fairy Tales

Tradition: England

A girl once went to the fair to hire herself for servant. At last a funny-looking old gentleman engaged her, and took her home to his house. When she got there, he told her that he had something to teach her, for that in his house he had his own names for things.

He said to her: 'What will you call me?'

'Master or mister, or whatever you please, sir,' says she.

He said: 'You must call me "master of all masters". And what would you call this?' pointing to his bed.

'Bed or couch, or whatever you please, sir.'

'No, that's my "barnacle". And what do you call these?' said he, pointing to his pantaloons.

'Breeches or trousers, or whatever you please, sir.'

'You must call them "squibs and crackers". And what would you call her?' pointing to the cat.

'Cat or kit, or whatever you please, sir.'

'You must call her "white-faced simminy".

And this now,' showing the fire, 'what would you call this?'

'Fire or flame, or whatever you please, sir.'

'You must call it 'hot cockalorum", and what this?' he went on, pointing to the water.

'Water or wet, or whatever you please, sir.'

'No, "pondalorum" is its name. And what do you call all this?' asked he as he pointed to the house.

'House or cottage, or whatever you please, sir.'

'You must call it "high topper mountain".'

That very night the servant woke her master up in a fright and said: 'Master of all masters, get out of your barnacle and put on your squibs and crackers. For white-faced simminy has got a spark of hot cockalorum on its tail, and unless you get some pondalorum high topper mountain will be all on hot cockalorum' . . . That's all.

Comments:

SOURCE I have taken what suited me from a number of sources which shows how widespread this quaint droll is in England: (i) In Mayhew, London Poor, iii, 391, told by a lad in a workhouse; (ii) several versions in 7 Notes and Queries, iii 35, 87, 159, 398.

PARALLELS Rev. W. Gregor gives a Scotch version under the title 'The Clever Apprentice', in Folk-Lore Journal, vii, 166. An Irish version with the Gaelic was given in Folk-Lore for March 1891. Mr Hartland, in Notes and Queries, l.c., 87, refers to Pitré's Fiabi sicil., iii, 120, for a variant.

REMARKS According to Mr Hartland, the story is designed as a satire on pedantry, and is as old in Italy as Straparola (sixteenth century). In passionate Sicily, a wife disgusted with her husband's pedantry sets the house on fire, and informs her husband of the fact in his own unintelligible gibberish; he, not understanding his own lingo, falls a victim to the flames, and she marries the servant who had taken the message.

Abstract:

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