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<   No. 4472   2021-03-16   >

Comic #4472

1 Dirque: Ship ahoy!
2 Long Tim: How can ye be tellin’ in this storm, Dirque? I be seein’ naught.
3 Dirque: I be smellin’ the blood of an Englishman!
3 Long Tom: Really?
4 Dirque: Aye! Quite distinctive, the fee-fi-fo-fumes!

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The chant "Fee-fi-fo-fum" first became familiar to me from the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, which was in some collection of fairy tales that I owned as a child and read many times. The book had a complete rhyme, which I still remember:

Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum.
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to bake my bread.

This rhyme is of uncertain and ancient origin. Shakespeare uses it in King Lear, Act 3, Scene IV:

      Fie, foh, and fum,
      I smell the blood of a British man.

Though it appears in print a few years earlier, in a pamphlet by Thomas Nashe published in 1596. He asserts that the rhyme is old and of unknown origin:

Fy, Fa and fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Wikipedia lists two different versions of the full four-line rhyme as printed in the 1711 book The history of Jack and the Giants, the first in the original 1711 publication, and the second in later editions:

Fee, fau, fum,
I smell the blood of an English man,
Be alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum.
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he living, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to mix my bread.

The version I remember from my own childhood book is an odd mixture of these two, with the word "bake" instead of either "make" or "mix". I remember specifically the word "bake" in the last line, because I always thought it was an odd choice, rather than the more straightforward "make my bread". I suspect the author chose "bake" for the added alliteration it forms with "bones" and "bread".

While I was familiar with the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, I had long also heard of a story about Jack the Giant Killer. I kind of tacitly assumed that this was just another name for the same story, since beanstalk Jack definitely killed a giant. But I later discovered that Jack the Giant Killer is a completely different story, about a youth named Jack who kills a swag of different giants, and doesn't have anything to do with magic beans at all. And then I thought it was a bit of a coincidence to have two different youths, both named Jack, who both happen to go around killing giants. Maybe it's some sort of nominative determinism and everyone named Jack has a destiny to become a giant killer.

Then I discovered that "Jack" is a common name for an archetypal folk hero character in English folklore. And not only is there Jack and the Beanstalk, and Jack the Giant Killer, but the same archetypal youth named Jack appears in Little Jack Horner, Jack and Jill, Jack Be Nimble, Jack Frost, Jack Sprat, Jack and his Comrades, Stingy Jack, and This is the House that Jack Built.

That's a lot of Jacks.

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