Tweedledum and Tweedledee are nursery rhyme characters who first appear in print in Original Ditties for the Nursery, published by John Harris in about 1805. In the popular imagination they are most closely associated with the characters of the same name encountered in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). Today the names are commonly used to characterise two people or things that are indistiguishable.
The common version of the nursery rhyme reads:
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.
The names Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee are included in a satirical verse dating from 1725 by the poet John Byrom, suggesting that the nursery rhyme may have been well known before that time. Byrom was writing about a bitter feud between the composers George Frederick Handel and Giovanni Bononcini, in which it was difficult for disinterested observers to discern what the two were disagreeing about. His verse ends with the couplet:
Strange all this Difference should be
‘Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!
Tweedledum and Tweedledee are also obsolete terms used to describe a low or a high-pitched instrument, or the musician who plays it.