Monday, October 06, 2008

...and one to grow on

RWMG, in wishing me a Happy Lynneukah, asked:
Any differences between UK and US birthdays you want to let us in on?
Funnily enough, a difference came up in Max's list of Americanisms from Anne Tyler's Back when we were grownups:
Biddy was using the butane torch to light the candles on the cake --an actual one hundred candles, as Rebecca had insisted, plus an extra to grow on.
Max asked about this extra to grow on business. It's not a tradition I've thought about in a long time, but there's a tradition in the US in which you spank a child on his/her birthday (but I've also seen it with adults--usually the term sexual harassment comes to mind). The birthday girl/boy gets a light spank on the bottom for each of their years (counted loudly), then just when you think the ordeal is over the spanker will give you an extra "one to grow on" (i.e. a spank to help you grow). A more pleasant variation on this is to give the person an extra candle on their cake.

The phrase has taken on a life of its own, used in situations where something extra is given, especially something that's supposed to help/force you to grow (up) a bit. For example, here's a bit from Time magazine in 1956, about a reporter who has taken recently merged labo(u)r unions to task for various 'sins':
On the first birthday of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. merger, one of the U.S.'s top labor reporters, New York Timesman A. H. Raskin, gave the "brawling infant" one to grow on in the Times's Sunday Magazine.
I asked Max if there's anything similar in the UK, and he replied:
The nearest thing to your birthday spanking is "the bumps" which schoolboys subject one another to on birthdays. One holds the victim's arms and another the legs, and they "bump" the victim on the ground (not hard) for the appropriate number of times, plus maybe "one for luck". You "give someone the bumps".
I'm sure you'll let us know if these traditions are still practi{c/s}ed among children today and what variations on these themes are out there...

Happy Lynneukah!


alice-q said...

Don't forget the "pinch to grow an inch" (following the "one to grow on" swat)!

Altissima said...

During my childhood (in Melbourne Australia in the late 70s), the tradition was to give "birthday bonkers". These were usually light punches to to the upper arm, one for each year, and plus "one to make you grow". Like (i imagine) birthday spanking, the activity is supposed to be gentle, but can get rough, particularly when administered by enthusiastic siblings.

dougal said...

I can definitely confirm that getting/giving bumps on a birthday was going strong 10-15 years ago when I was at school on east coast of Scotland.

At least, that was what they were called, and there was often an extra "one for luck", but the bumps themselves were open-handed strikes to the back. If it was a more violent crowd it might be the bottom of the fist (ie, what you would use to strike a table-top in a decisive manner).

lynneguist said...

I forgot about the 'pinch to grow an inch'! Is that ever found in the UK?

Anonymous said...

And you've made me remember the rather indelicate extra stanza:

Happy birthday to you,
You belong in a zoo.
You loook like a monkey,
And you smell like one too.

It's intimately associated for me with birthday spankings.


L said...

One thing I've always giggled at in birthday cards from my British in-laws is the "and many happy returns." I had just never heard it before, and it still seems so formal and bizarre. I've taken to assuming it means return of the birthday itself.

Love your blog.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

I think "Getting the bumps" still happens here - friends hold an arm and a leg each and bump you up and down - but I wouldn't swear to it. And definitely one for luck! But we don't have extra candles on the cake or anything like that. The birthday child (it usually is a child - by the time adult birthday comes around you get digital candles so as not to set the cake on fire) must blow out all the candles in one breath so that their wish comes true.

For Laura: Technically, the phrase is "Many happy returns of the day". One of my grandmothers, for the last 20 years of her life, hated being wished that, as she didn't actually want many more birthdays! She still wanted to be wished "Happy Birthday", though. I had not realised "Many Happy Returns" was British English only! Good, now I can tease my American friends..... ;)

lynneguist said...

I knew 'many happy returns' before moving to the UK, so I'm not sure it's BrE only, but it's certainly more popular here.

h- when we sang it, it was always "you live in a zoo".

Reminds me of "Jingle bells, Batman smells..." but that's another type of celebration.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

We (BrE) used to sing:

Happy Birthday to you
Squashed tomatoes and stew!
You look like a monkey,
And you act like one, too!

Anonymous said...

Clearly a matter of globali{z/s}ation. I've also heard

Happy birthday to you.
Marmelade im Schuh.
Aprikose in der Hose.
Happy birthday to you.

The third line ("apricots in your pants") seems to be one of those points where language beginners (in this case, Germans learning English) vent their frustrations by an appeal to the scatalogical.


Tim(CdnEng) said...

Our family in Canada was a definitely in the bumps camp. One year in my early teens (unfortunately captured on video for posterity) I got the bumps given to me outside, and on the extra one I was promptly thrown into my little sister's wading pool!

Despite this less-pleasant memory, bumps certainly sounds a lot more fun than spanks, punches or pinches. =)

Tim(CdnEng) said...

oh, and our family sings "you belong in a zoo". I've heard "you live in a zoo" before, but it's always sounded odd to me; perhaps because it doesn't fit the meter of the first verse?

Cameron said...

Growing up in Glasgow, west of Scotland, I think I remember

Happy Birthday to you,
squashed tomatoes and stew,
bread and butter
in the gutter
Happy Birthday to you.

I also seem to remember hearing quite a few variations over the years.

Tristan said...

Like Altissima, I remember punches in the upper arm (Melbourne, nineties). These were always administered by schoolfriends (I was the oldest boy in the family) and I didn't realise they were "supposed to be gentle". Not enough a teacher would catch you, but enough it hurts a little. Otherwise what's the point?

And I know:

Happy Birthday to you
You're a hundred and two/three
You still go to kinder/kindie
and you can't count to two.

I also know the "live in a zoo" version, but I've never heard the "tomatoes and stew" one.

bill said...

Parent and adult smacks or punches are meant to be gentle...

Friend smacks or punches are meant to be as hard as humanly possible.

mollymooly said...

the bumps were certainly administered in Ireland 30 years ago, and not only to boys. A few years after I left, they were banned from the playground of my National School after someone's arm was [accidentally] broken.

disgruntled said...

At our school, 'a pinch and a punch' were reserved for the first of the month, unless you'd had the foresight to say 'white rabbits' first (why? I have absolutely no idea where this comes from). The bumps involved no contact with the ground, just being thrown in the air, but did usually end with having your head flushed down the toilet. You get a better class of violence at a private school...

Anonymous said...

Our tradition (US) was a spanking with one (extra) for good luck and a pinch to grow an inch. The extra swat was never to grown on.

Canadian said...

I never heard "one to grow on" but we did use the "pinch to grow an inch" when giving the birthday bumps. Maybe there was one for good luck, but the phrase "one to grow on" was definitely not used.

Someone mentioned the phrase "many happy returns". I never heard this used in Canada. I always associate it with Winnie the Pooh, which must have been the only place I came across the phrase as a child.

Sonya said...

I had completely forgotten about "the bumps" until I read your post! This used to be done at our birthday parties when I was a child (the 70's) by friends and the occasional grown-up.

I always enjoy reading your discussions of BrE vs AmE and CanE. As a Canadian who grew up in a very isolated village in Eastern Ontario (that had a strong Scottish heritage) I find it quite interesting to see where the BrE is much more familiar and where the AmE is what I would use. I think the fact that we had little TV and no cable when I was growing up definitely preserved the British and local usage but this has changed dramatically with the past generation's exposure to the internet/media/American programming. I can still recall that my father used the word 'lief' frequently and referred to other men as 'nice chaps'. These aren't usages I would hear in downtown Toronto now!

Anne T. said...

We (American) would have an extra candle for good luck. The pinch to grow an inch is familiar, but not strongly associated with birthdays for me. There is a latino tradition, from Mexico as well as Puerto Rico, of smashing the birthday child's face in the cake. A Puerto Rican acquaintance of mine threw a birthday party for her daughter, with a small cake for smashing and a big cake to cut up and serve to everyone. (I think the candles would have been in the big cake for obvious reasons, but don't remember this part.)

My parents also sing a happy birthday song for later birthdays, adult birthdays, that sounds like a dirge. Sung very slowly, sounding very ominous and glum, the tune belies the words.

Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday
You're another year older.
Happy Birthday.

Anne T. said...

My Australian friend adds Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! after the birthday song (at least until she realized that no one else did it here.)

Zhu said...

Funny, but I assume the spanking isn't that popular these day :$

I don't French/ Canadians have any birthday tradition...

The only weird thing here is that quebecers call "birthday" "fête" instead if "anniversaire". Fête in France is the day of a saint... not a birthday.

Anne T. said...

By the way, happy birthday, Lynne!

Max said...

"A pinch and a punch for the first of the month."

"A punch and a kick for being so quick."

Middlesex, England, 1950s.

Anonymous said...

At my school the tradition was Birthday Beats, which involved punching someone's arm (and only they're arm. Strange punching them elsewhere was classed as bullying) as hard as you could while you counted the number of times. You'd punch them once for each year they'd been alive, and then you would punch them twice more - once for next year and once for good luck.

Sophiesaurus said...

"A pinch and a punch for the first of the month."
"A punch and a kick for being so quick."
Middlesex, England, 1950s.

...or "a poke in the eye for being so sly".
Surrey, England, 1970s.

And a belated Happy Birthday, Lynne! I have recently discovered your excellent blog and have spent a couple of happy hours fossicking in the archives, when I should have been doing something less interesting instead.

PS) I've just seen a review of A Field Guide to the British, which looks interesting, though perhaps clichéd.

Sophiesaurus said...

Sorry, there was an errant slash in the URL that I gave there. This should work instead.

PS) I find it odd that some television presenters (in the UK at least) read out URLs and carefully emphasise "FORWARD slash" whatever, as though a backslash might creep in there one day, unless they're very careful.

Memory said...

Happy Birthday to you
Squashed tomatoes and stew
I saw a fat monkey
And i thought it was you!

Interesting to see the different variants. This one's UK c.1990 ;)

ros said...

Not just schoolboys. We did the bumps regularly at my all-girls school. Always with one extra 'for luck'.

John Cowan said...

Celebrity-stalker in Cairo one hot morning: (giggles) "Imagine, Colonel Lawrence, ninety-four already!"

Lawrence of Arabia: "Indeed, Madam? Many happy returns of the day!"

Sophiesaurus: I, indeed, have heard people carefully pronounce URLs thus: "aitch tee tee pee, backslash, backslash, ..." Memory has mercifully obliterated the rest.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Canada, my lineage is from London, England. My dad's step grandmom lived in our house - she was Scottish and English, my cousins are Australian English. So no matter where they moved that is who they were. We grew up with a pinch to grow an inch and a slap to grow fat. My sister would slap hard in the face and pinch hard in the face. AND say don't try doing this to me when it is my birthday because I'm older. Some of my other sibblings tapped and gently pinched like a grandma visiting I never ever did that to any one ever. With my children I gently gave an almost pinch as to put colour in the cheeks and said a pinch to grow an inch and then I would tell I won't give the slap to grow fat. My grandchild is 9 and she has never heard of it. THANK GOD.