Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The word crimp

The UK judges who attended the WI Sheep and Wool Festival were a delight to listen to, and talk to! For the most part, I thought what they said about Shetland sheep was excellent advice to Americans. It was obvious they were not aware of the problems we are currently facing in the breed here in America, such as very undersized animals, animals with improper bone, expression, and sheep with very fatty/meaty toplines that are not level. This was evident in how they expressed, almost with desperation, that the Shetland sheep is a WHOLE package! You can not subtract off a bad tail, a sloped topline, a dull look, bad horns, or washed out color and say you have a great Shetland. Well said!!!! They specifically said animals with these faults such as too small (i.e. 40 pounds at maturity) or with bad bone, or meaty toplines can be kept if you want them, but certainly not registered and certainly not bred as purebred Shetlands.

However, there was a place where they deviated from common sense...and this is why I'm not a supporter of the SSS. They actually said that the word "crimp" did not exist in 1927!!!!!!!! They claimed that's why the word crimp is not on the breed standard. What????? That's like saying credit card companies are always working in my interest!!!!!!!!!!! (Later Edit: I forgot to add that one of the show organizers and the one who helped hire and pay for the judges to visit us here, Lori, taped the presentation of the UK judges on Sunday morning of the festival. Unless it's edited out, you can hear it for yourselves.)

Let's look back...and it's not so very long ago! (To put it into perspective, a person born in 1927 is 84 years old today.) It is well known by linguists that the word crimp has several forms, in several languages, that stem out of several regions. Did all these words happen AFTER 1927?? I think not! Let's look at some of the Shetland Island's close neighbors.

Dutch: krimpen
Low German: crimpen
Faroese: kreppa ('crisis')
Icelandic: kreppa ('crisis')
Old Norse: kreppa ('crisis')

Dutch? Faroese? Icelandic?? Old NORSE??? You know, that old language many of our Shetland descriptive words comes from??? You know...from the Norwegian people who SETTLED on the Shetland Islands...of whom the descendents still live and still claim heritage to??

The Shetland Islands are a place where ships ruled. The Islands are in a location of much ship traffic...THE way goods, culture, and people got around for hundreds of years. It is well documented that the port of Lerwick was a popular stop for centuries for rest, trade, or safe haven. Not only did goods travel around, so did people and their languages. There is no way you can convince me that the man who lead the writing of the 1927 Breed Standard had NO awareness or USAGE of the word crimp!!!!!! Many countries all around had their own versions of the word long before the standard was written. The English are thought to have created the word in the first place (origin: middle English), and the word is recorded as utilized in the development of English breeds south of the Shetland Islands throughout the 1700's and 1800's (breeds that were ON the Islands at the time our standard was written). The French used it with merinos and rambouillets. The Germans used it, so did the Dutch, the people of Iceland, and even in Faroese!! There is no sense in the statement from the UK judge that Mr. Bowie Senior, an educated, wealthy man (who's patients were largely fishermen and crofters), had no awareness of the word crimp or even to go so far as to say the word crimp 'didn't exist'!!

Now let's look at the usage:

used as a noun to describe "bends back and forth in many short kinks"

used as an adjective to describe "easily crumbled, friable, brittle or weak, inconsistent, contradictory

I can see why the writers of the 1927 Breed Standard did not use the word crimp!!!!! Their fibers created strong, yet light and comfortable garments that could hold up to heavy labor on the sea, or on the croft. Fish were netted in, stone extracted and homes, fences built, animals to tend, and peat to dig. The Shetland fiber, and resulting garments had to be STRONG and durable, yet soft and light, because while SOME of the fiber went into things stored away for safe keeping, MOST of the fiber went into daily garments. That's certainly longish and wavy!! It seems obvious to me that the writers of the 1927 Standard chose words that not only accurately describe the fiber, but also avoid implied meaning of weakness.

All of my data comes from Webster's dictionaries dated 1909, revised 1913.

An interesting end note: to crimp or crimping, in times past when ships sailed the seas from all around the world, especially western Europe, also had another meaning! It meant that a person could be swipped out of their communities and forced onto a ship to help man the ship, without that person's will. It meant, essentially, kidnapping someone and forcing them into labor on a ship. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 detested this and attempted to make rules about ship labor. Can you possibly tell me the people of Shetland, who lived in one of the busiest shipping lanes of the history of the world, had no awareness of all this? The word 'crimp' or to get 'crimped' struck terror into many hearts, I'm sure!

For these reasons, I think the UK judges were way off in saying the word crimp didn't exist in 1927.

Later edit: Why were the judges saying the word crimp didn't exist in 1927? To insist that the word wavy means crimp. It's their way of insisting the word crimp is not on the standard because, they claim, the word crimp 'didn't exist'. Many audience members were in agreement. I disagree. I think wavy means wavy. I always say that a wise historian gave me wise advice once, and that is the mists of time are most accurately seen through by multiple accounts and regional knowledge. You cannot zoom in on one tiny detail and expect to see the whole picture. If you look at what the sheep climate was like, and what languages were like, and other work beyond crofting, you can easily see that claiming the word crimp didn't exist is not correct. If the original writers of the standard in 1927 MEANT crimp, they would have USED the word. Instead, they chose WAVE. End of Edit.

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