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To Morrow

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(A wandery sort of entry that goes nowhere in particular and ends abruptly.)

Cindy Kallet is going to be performing in half a dozen places in northern California in the first half of November, mostly house concerts. I'm not sure whether I'll go to any of them, but if the schedule fits I probably will.

I first encountered Kallet's music in college; a pair of student folksingers, Gabby & Joanna, regularly sang a couple of Kallet's songs, "Out on the Farthest Range" and "Shores of Africa" (which later turned out to be two of my favorites of Kallet's). But the Gabby & Joanna song that's been running through my head lately, for no clear reason, is a song that appears to have been popularized by the Kingston Trio: "To Morrow," by Bob Gibson. (It was also performed on the Muppet Show at some point.)

It's a song about a traveller who wants to go to a town called Morrow, and who has trouble interacting with the ticket-seller:

Said he to me, "Now let me see if I have heard you right.

You'd like to go to Morrow and return tomorrow night.

You should have gone to Morrow yesterday and back today

for the train that goes to Morrow is a mile upon its way."

As usual, I imagine it doesn't work as well without music as with (the tune is bouncy and catchy), but you can get the general idea.

Despite the various cute twists of phrasing, the song's not all that hard to follow if you're paying attention. But there are a couple of somewhat archaic words in it that I hadn't encountered before, and that's the real point of this entry.

I think G&J used to sing the beginning of the second verse as:

I went down to the station for a ticket and a ride;

For tips regarding Morrow I stepped up to the guide.

Or at least that's the way I remember hearing it. Turns out it's really:

So I went down to the station for my ticket and applied

for tips regarding Morrow not expecting to be guyed.

To guy someone, it turns out, is to make fun of them.

And then near the end of the song, I think they used to sing:

He had no right in telling me I was a howling jay

I always wondered about that; why a jay? Why howling? Turns out the original line (if the Internet, it is right) goes:

That man was right in telling me that I was a-howling jay.

which was just oddly enough punctuated to make me go look up jay, which turns out to serve as either a noun or an adjective referring to a rube or a hick.

9 Comments

Re: jay as rube
And hence "jay-walking", since a rube wouldn't know to cross at the intersections.


"being guyed" must be related to Guy Fawkes. I just read it being used the other day when I reread the E. Nesbit trilogy -- it was clear from context what was meant, there, though in the song it's not so clear. Anyway, given the Nesbit evidence, I'd say it's a Britishism.


Ah, another chance to use the OED. They have guy in the sense of "to make an object of ridicule or derisive wit" as theatrical slang from the second half of the nineteenth century. That makes sense with the Guy Fawkes business: one identifying feature of the Guy (effigy) is its raiment of rags, thus the use of Guy from 1836 as any person dressed outrageously. From there it comes to be a positive term (what a guy!) and then a generic one, all the same dude (or mack?).
Anyway, in the theeyater, one way to make somebody an object of ridicule or derisive wit is to make them go on in a ridiculous costume, thus guying them. Think of it as like the principal in the grade school play, made to come on for a cameo in tutu or fake beard, eliciting laughs, selling tickets, and making the dreaded authority figure one of the guys.

              ,
-V.


Interesting. I was trying to make it be related to the verb to gull, but I guess etymology by spelling isn't sound etymology either. :)

...The Gilbert & Sullivan song "I've Got a Little List" has been running through my head this morning, and I think I just realized why: the line "the lady from the provinces who dresses like a guy." Does it mean she dresses like a man (as I always thought) or outrageously?


Etymology by phonetics is sound etymology.


I was always wondering about the howling-Jay, for those who visit this site and are wondering how the song goes, here is a link to a video of it being performed on the muppet show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGTs-ooDZq4


If it's "a-howling jay" then that would mean jay is a noun and a-howling is a present tense verb, done in the colloquial style (like the times they are a-changin')...


Devin: Not necessarily; I can imagine an adjective appearing in that construction. Kinda like the phrase "hopping mad," where "mad" is an adjective and "hopping" is an intensifier.

But it's certainly an odd phrase no matter how we parse it.


I figured the jay in "a howling jay" was a blue jay (one of the noisiest birds of its size, and often called a jay).


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