Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Carl doddies

Carl doddy, and variants thereof, are names given to the flowers of ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and a number of other plants.
A well-known and widespread children’s game uses the flowerheads of ribwort plantain, and this game has been given a large number of names. Typically:
As children we played a game called ‘Fighting Cocks’ with the long-stemmed seed-heads of ribwort plantain. Two children each took a ‘cock’ and they kept hitting them against each other until the head was knocked off one. Then ‘My cock won’ [Lenamore, Co. Longford, April 1991].
Iona and Peter Opie in their Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) record that the game was known early in the 13th century.
Known as carl doddies in Aberdeen in the 1930s, it was explained that during the 1745 Jacobite rebellion supporters of Charles, the Young Pretender, were known as Carls, and supporters of King George were know as Doddies – Doddie being the local name for George. Following their parents children took sides, hence the game’s name, which became extended to plantain flowerheads.
Unfortunately for this theory the name carl doddy has been given to other plants, none of which appear to have been used in similar games. In Angus melancholy thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum)was known as carl doddie, and in southwest Scotland daisies (Bellis perennis) were called curl-doddies. Both names have been interpreted as ‘curly heads’. An Orkney name for white clover (Trifolium repens) was curl-doddy, while in Co. Donegal devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) was known as carl doddie: ‘the idea is of a long-stalked flower. Doddie = bald’. Even more confusingly in Shetland the name curlie-doddie was given to early purple orchid (Orchis mascula), or curly doddies was used as ‘a general name for all … orchises’.

Adapted from R. Vickery, Garlands, Conkers and Mother-die, 2010: 74-5.

Image:  ribwort plantain, Bedford, Bedfordshire; August 2015.