What is a yard of (pudding, ale, etc.)?

I was just reading William and Ceil Baring-Gould’s sadly under-Annotated Mother Goose, in which rhyme #274 is:

Hyer iddle diddle dell,
A yard of pudding‘s not an ell;
Not forgotten, tweedle-dye,
A tailor’s goose will never fly.

Characteristically, the Baring-Goulds footnote the literal meaning of "ell," but are completely silent on the tougher meaning of "yard." (And never mind trying to explain the nonsense syllables!)

I’m vaguely familiar with the concept of a "yard of ale" — Wiktionary says it’s "The amount of ale that fills a very tall tapering beer glass (approximately 1 yard)," not that that really narrows it down if you don’t provide the width of the glass too. Wikipedia says roughly 1.4 liters.

I found this reference from John Taylor’s 1639 A Juniper Lecture:

… a bowle of pottage that holds a Gallon, and a Barly bagge pudding of a yard long, and some Bull Beefe …

and this reference from John Shipp (1840):

I was exceedingly hungry … I longed for a slice … [Finally, Shipp and the plum-pudding woman] agreed that in consideration of a quarter of a yard of pudding and a shilling, to be to me paid and delivered, my new shoes were to be handed over to the dealer in plum pudding, as her own proper goods and chattels. This contract being honourably completed, I retreated [to eat his quarter-yard of pudding in a single sitting "without any great exertion."]

I’m also vaguely familiar with the idea of a boiled pudding, in the Christmas-pudding sense, but I thought those were typically ball-shaped. I’m tempted to guess that a "plum-pudding dealer" might well use a long skinny bag to make it easier to portion out slices, and that a "yard of pudding" would just be a three-foot slice from one of these long skinny pudding-sausages… but is that right?

Looking for some historical context to connect the dots here. How precise of a measuring unit is this "yard"? How much hunger would be sated by a quarter-yard of plum pudding? Can anything besides ale and pudding be measured in "culinary yards"? 🙂

EDITED TO ADD: The nursery rhyme that kicked this all off is of the genre that the Baring-Goulds call "self-evident propositions." Commenter YosefBaskin points out that the nursery rhyme might be saying that just as a tailor’s "goose" is not a member-of-the-category "birds," similarly a puddingwise "yard" is not a member-of-the-category "units of length"! However, I think it’s equally reasonable to read it as saying that self-evidently a tailor’s "goose" won’t fly, and (independently) self-evidently a yard of anything is not as much as an ell of the same thing. It’s not necessarily an exact parallel with the preceding line. (Trust me, I’ve read enough of these rhymes this week to know they’re not all paragons of parallel construction! ;))

English Language & Usage Asked on November 14, 2021

2 Answers

2 Answers

As Robusto points out in a comment beneath the posted question, a "pudding" can be, among other things, a form of sausage. Early modern English dictionaries, such as Edward Phillips & John Kersey, The New World of Words: Or, Universal English Dictionary (1706), are unfortunately inexact about the precise sense of the term, referring to it as "a well known Dish." But elsewhere in that dictionary, one can find entries such as these:

Chitterlings, Hogs-guts well cleans'd and boil'd ; also a kind of Pudding, or Sausage.


Farciminalis Tunica, (Lat. in Anat.) a Coat belonging to a Child in the Womb, which receives the Urine from the Bladder, and is so call'd, because in many Beasts 'tis of the shape of a Gut-pudding ; but in Man and some few other Living-creatures it is round.


Jurium, (Lat.) A kind of Pudding call'd an Ising or Sausage.

These instances suggest that a pudding mixture encased in hog intestine was known as a gut-pudding a sausage, or (sometimes) more generically as simply a pudding—although the generic term also applied to many other mixtures of meat, bread, and spices as well.

Instances involving the sale of intestine-encased puddings by the yard evidently go back very far indeed. Here is a relevant instance from Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Diuell (1592):

I would English the iest for the edification of the temporalitie, but that it is not so good in English as in Latine: and though it were as good, it would not conuert clubs and clowted shoone from the flesh pots of Egipt, to the Prouant of the Lowe countries, for they had rather (with the Seruingman) put vp a Supplication to the Parliament house, that they might haue a yard of pudding for a penie, than desire (with the Baker) there might bee three ounces of bread sold for a halfe penie.

Clearly, Nashe did not imagine that his audience would have any more difficulty inetrpreting the proper sense of "a yard of pudding" than "three ounces of bread."

Answered by Sven Yargs on November 14, 2021

I see the Annotated Mother Goose was published in 1962. In those (pre-decimal) days the yard was familiar to every British reader.

12 inches = 1 foot. 3 feet = 1 yard. An inch is about 2 1/2 centimetres, and a yard is a little under a metre.

The point of a 'yard of ale' is the difficulty of drinking from such an awkwardly-shaped glass, not the exact volume.

Answered by Kate Bunting on November 14, 2021

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