Wednesday, March 21, 2007

D'yer Mak'er?

Here's what I love most about Google: it lets you look up the derivation of things that you have always wondered about, and also quickly settle bets at dinner parties. Sort of like a cross between Space Food Sticks:

and the OED:

One thing I Googled while writing A Field of Darkness was "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines." This is because every time my mother served pork and beans to her boyfriend Drayton when we were living in his house on Centre Island, he would shove them around the plate with his fork and sullenly mutter "Pork and beans, pork and beans, I'm Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines."

Turns out he was quoting the lyrics of a 1901 Broadway musical, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines by one Clyde Fitch, which debuted at Manhattan's Garrick Theater in NYC.

I’m Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines
I feed my horse on pork and beans,
And often live beyond my means,
And sport young ladies in their teens
Tho' a Captain in the Army....

I joined the Corps when twenty-one
Of course I thought it capital fun
When the enemy comes, of course I run
For I'm not cut out for the Army.
This is the kind of thing Google can instantaneously satisfy your curiosity about.

I got to thinking about this the other day when I Googled "We had to destroy the village in order to save it," because I wanted to mention it in a comment on Our J's post last Friday:

One of the most infamous statements made during the Vietnam war was "We had to destroy the village in order to save it," which has been attributed to varied sources, including journalist Peter Arnett.

A phrase I did not realize was also from that era is "the light at the end of the tunnel," first used by Lyndon Johnson in a November 1967 speech. One blogger reports that "Johnson himself remarked to his press secretary, Bill Moyers (who probably coined the phrase), 'Light at the end of the tunnel? We don’t even have a tunnel; we don’t even know where the tunnel is!'” As Elvis Costello sings, "History repeats the old conceits/The glib replies, the same defeats..."

Here are some other phrases I've Googled since, just for the hell of it:

D'yer Mak'er

What the hell is this? How would you begin to attempt pronouncing it? What does it mean? I have long pondered the answers to those questions, presuming that it was some sort of Brit slang for "hey, dj'ya get any lately?", or possibly something about the antique art of adding pigment to textiles (dye maker?)but was too lazy to get off my ass and Google it until this morning.


From Wikipedia:

"D'yer Mak'er" (intended to be pronounced with a British non-rhotic accent as "jah-may-kah") is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, from their 1973 album Houses of the Holy.

This song was meant to imitate reggae and its "dub" derivative emerging from Jamaica in the early 1970s. It emerged from rehearsals at Stargroves in 1972 when drummer John Bonham started with a beat similar to 1950s doo-wop, and then twisted it into a slight off beat tempo, upon which a reggae influence emerged. The distinctive drum sound was created by placing three microphones a good distance away from Bonham's drums.
"D'yer Mak'er" is one of the few Led Zeppelin songs where all four members share the composer credit. The sleeve on the album also credits "Rosie and the Originals", a reference to the doo-wop influence which was evident in the song's construction, as well as sharing the chord progression in its verse portions with the Rosie and the Originals' song "Angel Baby".
Jamaica. Yeah, that was totally obvious.

Knees Up Mother Brown

Here's another confusing Brit thing, song-title wise. Who is Mother Brown? Why should she raise her knees? Here I often think she's someone's mother-in-law, sitting on the sofa when the young married daughter is trying to vacuum the living room or something. "'Ere Mother Brown, knees up, I'm trying to get the zwieback crumbs out from beneath the coffee table..."

Traditional Party Song

Knees up Mother Brown
Knees up Mother Brown
Under the table you must go
Ee-aye, Ee-aye, Ee-aye-oh
If I catch you bending
I'll saw your legs right off
Knees up, knees up
Never get the breeze up
Knees up Mother Brown

Oh my, what a rotten song
What a rotten song
What a rotten song
Oh my, what a rotten song
And what a rotten singer

Wikipedia claims "knees up" means having a party or dance. Or maybe vacuuming. Also that "is a 1938 song composed by Harris Weston and Bert Lee. It is particularly associated with cockney culture."

Lee is also justly famous for the hits "Paddy McGinty's Goat" (1917), "My Word You Do look Queer" (1922), and my personal favorite, "And The Great Big Saw Came Nearer And Nearer" (1936).

The Knees Up Mother Brown awards (KUMB, at are bestowed annually by fans of West Ham United Football Club, and include seven categories, including last year's:


1. Tottenham, for blowing a Champions League spot and £15m in the process 2. Steve Bruce, for being relegated - revenge is a dish... best served cold (especially by ex-Hammers manager Glenn Roeder) 3. Milan Baros, for rejecting West Ham in favour of Aston Villa.
Yeah, soccer. Scintillating.

Also there's a song about a chick from France who can only dance the knees up Mother Brown. May be a chicken and the egg thing....

50 Million Frenchman Can't Be Wrong

I'd always presumed this was an ad slogan popular sometime before I was born... picture an old Life magazine photo showing Pepe LePew lounging against the bosom of a reluctant black female cat, blowing heart-shaped smokerings while holding up a pack of Gauloise for the viewing audience.

But no... it is in fact a lyric from a Rose/Rasker/Fisher song of the same name, made famous by Sophie Tucker.

My favorite verse is the last one:

In Viva la France They're full of romance You'll find policemen with embroidery on their pants. And when they start to sing the Marseillaise They sing it forty different ways Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong.
I Say It's Spinach, and I Say the Hell With It...

I first heard this from my friend Candace in college. Her parents were older than mine, and she had a whole slew of phrases I'd never before run across

This one is the second part of E.B. White's tagline for a 1928 New Yorker cartoon drawn by Carl Rose, picturing a child turning her nose up at a serving of green stuff. Her mother has just said "It's broccoli, dear..."

I think it's close kin to the "Ach, kreplach" joke told in Nora Ephron's Heartburn.

Smoke 'em if You Got 'em

This always sounded like a WWII type phrase, to me. My brother-in-law Tom Murphy says it a lot.

The Urban Dictionary posits two derivations/meanings:

1. Smoke em if you got em

When there is an unavoidable delay in an activity, some people will say "smoke 'em if you got 'em" as a way of saying "this is going to take a while to fix, so you might as well do something other than just wait (like taking a smoke break)".
After Joe's car broke down on the deserted country road, he called a tow truck and told his passengers "Smoke em if you got em."

2. Smoke em if you got em
1. In a battle, when both sides have ammo, and lots of em, they just let loose.

Smoke 'em if You Got 'em is also the first album by The Reverend Horton Heat. It was released in November of 1990 on Sub Pop.

This is also the title of a 1988 Australian film, supposedly a black humor treatment of nuclear apocalypse, etc.

If anyone else can help out with the true derivation of this, I'd love to know what it is. Doesn't it just kind of scream Ernie Pyle?

What phrases have you wondered about?

Here's one of the first things I ever looked up on the internet:

Potato cannons.

My Uncle Hunt was talking about them at a dinner party, so I downloaded blueprints for one to show my mom, who wasn't getting what they were intended for.


  1. First let's congratulate Cornelia for her Gumshoe Nomination. See link here:

    David Montgomery is a really good critic and his opinion means a lot. Good job!

    Secondly, I can vivdly remember eating Space Food sticks. They had just the right mix of dry, chocolate, chewy flavor. My mom limited me to two sticks at a time.

    And finally, yes, 50 million Frenchmen can be wrong. From defensive fortifications to African colonies.

    Jim Born

  2. "50 Million Frenchman Can Be Wrong.... Now THAT would be a great satire song, summarizing everything from the Maginot line to Cheeseburger Royales and Jerry Lewis fandom.

  3. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who remembers Space Food Sticks. The rest of my family thinks I'm hallucinating. Again.

    I LOVED those things!

    A lot like Powerbars, come to think of it, only shaped like rope.

    And thank you for the congrats on the Gumshoe. David is wonderful, and he picked a great committee this year. I was happy to see Lee Child and Ken Bruen on the list, and two of my favorite books from last year, Ariana Franklin's CITY OF SHADOWS and Ace Atkins' WHITE SHADOW--both gorgeous. Franklin's book had the best double-take twist ending I've ever seen.

  4. My character Tucker Sinclair was conceived in the backseat of a Corvair Monza while her parents were listening to an NPR special on Sophie Tucker, last of the red-hot mamas. That's how she got her name.

    Hearty and heartfelt congrats on the Gumshoe nom, Ms. C!

  5. Go Patty, and take that, Ralph Nader!

    My grandmother had a ruby ring that supposedly belonged to Sophie Tucker. I think my aunt Julie has it now.

  6. Yowsa! Hip hip hooray for the Gumshoe nomination!

    Let's see: looking up some odd phrase that's been on my mind. "Gay as Dick's hatband." Too many people rolling their eyes at me when I repeat this oft-quoted phrase of my mother's.

    Come to find it's a fairly ubiquitous hatband. You can be "tight as Dick's hatband," "queer as Dick's hatband," or "plain as Dick's hatband," as well. And it comes from a derogatory reference to Richard Cromwell's crown.

  7. Congrats to Cornelia for her gumshoe nod. (Is there a Manolo Blahnik award?)

    Also, your posts (unlike mine) are truly educational. I feel like I'm taking a course in American Popular Culture.

    Now, that damn pork-and-beans tune is playing in my head.

    And I thought "50 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong" was the ad tag line for a 1960's Bridget Bardot film.

    As for the birth of Patty's Tucker Sinclair, the name brings to mind the old New York Giants Running Back Tucker Frederickson. The announcer got excited during a big play and Spoonerized his name. Y'al can figure it out.

  8. Great post, Miss C, and congratulations!

    A phrase that had me curious for years was Hobson's choice, which I saw used in a number of novels by English writers.

    From Wikipedia: Hobson's choice is an apparently free choice which is really no choice at all. The phrase is said to originate from Thomas Hobson (1544–1630), a livery stable owner at Cambridge, England who, in order to rotate the use of his horses, offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door — or taking none at all.

    And, if you like fossicking around on the internet and you like words, you might enjoy this site: World Wide Words at:

    It's one of my very favorite time-wasters ;-)

  9. OOh! You got another nomination, Corneila?? Congratulations, and jubliations!! I've got THAT song in my head. Mean it all the same, though. :-D

    You think you guys get double takes at what you say! I've been getting those since I landed on these prissy, er, pristine shores. Got a couple of 'rolling around on the floor laughing' results too. Sometimes I have to translate what my dad says for my husband. Sigh. A friend has been tickled to find her surname as part of an old Aussie slang term that means 'not a chance in hell'.

    A recent one was 'dicky ticker' - bad heart. Same for 'dicky knee' - but the knee, etc. Insert joint, or organ of choice,etc.

    Oh, this is a fun post, Cornelia!! Ta.


  10. Louise, I love "gay as dick's hatband," and what a GREAT derivation! Truly OED worthy.

    Paul, I don't know about a Manolo Blahnik award, but I'd settle for the Gucci-loafer cup with no complaint. (NICE spoonerization, by the way!!)

    Rae, Very glad to know what Hobson's choice comes from. I always get it mixed up with Occam's razor. Both good pub names, to me.

    And Marianne, another thing I keep meaning to Google is Ned Kelly's last words. An Aussie friend told me what they were once in Bali, and I can never remember...

    ah ha, Wikipedia to the rescue: "Such is life."

  11. Speaking of things you say (and do) that make people think you're insane; I learned from my mother the tradition of giving a teacup as an engagement gift (she got about a dozen, which are still the kitchen cabinet). But when I do it, because I love senseless acts of tradition, it tends to cause confusion. With good reason, apparently, because according to this, it was on its way out in 1922.

  12. Ah, Daisy... my Emily Post is the 1944 edition. I think teacups are the perfect engagement gift.

  13. OK, seeing as you've brought in "knees up" - let me tell you, I've been to quite a few in my time. Having a "Knees up" in local parlance, simply means having a party where you dance and make merry. Many of those old songs went back to the days of music hall (or vaudeville, as you Yanks call it), when the dances really did require you to lift up yer knees. And nice to see the lads from Spurs gracing Nakedauthors today (though I was never a big Spurs fan). By the way, do you know where "soccer" comes from? It's very British, you know, and is an abbreviation of "Association Football." You see, all those football teams in Britain were once local associations, so the competitive game was called "Association Football." Most Brits just call it "football" to differentiate it from rugby, which is more fun anyway. Sorry about going off on a tangent, you didn't really want to know all that, did you?

    And here's many congrats to our Cornelia for the Gumshoe nom - well done, Miss C., this is really amazing news!!

    And great post - really enjoyed it.

  14. I LOVE finding out things like that, Our J, and thank you for filling me in on both Mother Brown and the Association (doesn't that sound like a backup band for Janis Joplin?).

  15. Oh my, don't EVEN get me started on Janis. I'm at this very moment holding in my hand a boxed set of her greatest hits. Try this song at your next "knees up" and see if you can keep it from buzzing through your head all night:

    Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

    Stop me before I hum again!!!!!!

  16. Patty, that's one of my favorites - I sing it out loud (and I'm tone dead, so you know it sounds bad) when I'm in my brother's car - a Merc. One day I will tell you a funny story about that Merc, and what happened to my brother on the way to his naturalization interview. They let him in anyway, he's now a Yank, just like the rest of you.

    Mother Brown and The Association - maybe we should set ourselves up as another band, along the lines of The Rock Bottom Remainders.

  17. Thanks for this, Cornelia. you finally got me to Wiki "and Bob's your uncle." (can you tell I've been reading a lot of Pratchett?)

    According to Wiki, it translates roughly to "no problem" or "the solution is simple" and the more interesting possibility for its origin comes from a whacked out history of British nepotism wherein Uncle Bob appointed his nephew to several cushy posts.

    Therefore, in my next book, I will use the newly updated 'bout "and George is your papa"?

  18. For Our J and Patty:

    Janis Roolz.

  19. And Regina, I'm still trying to think up some "George/daddy..." remark.

    Joe Mama Bush? Bush my baby daddy?

  20. Not, ahem, my baby daddy.

    Just wanted to make that clear.

  21. The Jamaica ref comes from an ancient music hall joke: My wife went to the West Indies. Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord.

    And far be it from me to be a pedant, but the Maginot Line worked exactly as planned ... it funneled the invaders west, where they could be stopped in Belgium. Two problems: the Belgians didn't fight, and the Ardennes Forest wasn't as impenetrable to armor as previously believed.

  22. When I hear Jamaica, I always think of that other joke, the one about the tattoo that reads at full length not "Wendy," but, "Welcome to Jamaica, have a nice day...."

    And if only I could have turned you loose on Miss Bayliss, Lee--my Western Civ and AP European history teacher, and lone source on all things Maginot. She was from Rhodesia. Fond of wearing capes.

  23. I have always thought the phrase about 'destroying it to save it' was refering to Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta during the Tet offensive in 1968.
    I was in Phan Thiet at the time, which was also partially destroyed. As a phrase though it embodies perfectly a certain, but not all, military mentality.

  24. Cornelia,

    Congrats on the Gumshoe nod and congrats on this post.

    Just yesterday we were talking about some senator who described the Internet as a bunch of tubes that get clogged with messages. I had to know who it was and found it came from Ted Stevens, the cranky old Republican from Alaska.

    Smoke 'em if you got 'em. I first heard this from a drill sergeant in 1969 during a brief pause in the day's torture.

    Finally, congrats on a fine book. I started it this week and last night I read things aloud to my wife, almost always a good sign. Really great work.

    I'm proud to know you.

  25. VN, That sounds like a tough place to be during the Tet offensive... I remember my stepfather's sad reaction to the "we had to destroy..." saying. He didn't serve in Vietnam, but did three tours as a Marine in the Pacific during WWII.

    David, thank you! I am so happy about the Gumshoe nom, but even more happy to hear you're enjoying FOD. That means a lot to me, and I'm very glad to know you, too...

    Was it you who first pointed out that all my female characters are based on Jim Born?

  26. The rest of the story on "D'yer Maker" is that it's part of a Cockney dialect joke:

    "My wife went on holiday to the Carribean."
    "Jamaicar (or D'yer Maker)?"
    "No, she went of her own accord!"

  27. Yes! Congrats on the Gumshoe.

    I thought it was: Jamaica? No, I only kissed her.

    As for the back seat of the Corvair, it just goes to show Nader was right: Unsafe at any speed.

    Tom, T.O.

  28. Tom, I think that's probably the American version. Too bad they didn't have a Corvair, eh?