“God save the king”

For 70 years, people in the Commonwealth realms and beyond sang God save the queen. Recently, some of us have sung God save the king. I haven’t had to yet. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sang God save the queen, as it was replaced by Advance Australia fair in 1974. Being a moderate republican (note that a lowercase-r republican in Australia is very different from an uppercase-R Republican in the USA) I would probably decline to sing God save the king unless I really had to (frexample if I was in a featured choir). In fact, in fact, I struggle to remember singing Advance Australia fair since the opening ceremony of the 2000 olympic games.

Several days ago I watched a video about music in which someone talked about the use of repetition in music. He contrasted God save the king (which has no repetition) and Twinkle, twinkle, little star (which has multiple repeated phrases). But he didn’t use standard words (either God save the king or My country,  ’tis of thee, but a parody version I hadn’t heard before. I thought that was semi-interesting but wouldn’t have written a post about it. But yesterday a colleague mentioned that when he was young, he thought that one phrase was 

Santa victorious

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A few posts ago I talked about the song Sweet Caroline. The morning after I posted that, one of my sisters, who is one of my regular reader messaged me “I read your blog this morning and the first song on the radio when I got in the car to drive to church was … Sweet Caroline. Freaky eh!”

The freakiest coincidence of music I experienced was in a bookshop while browsing through a book which attempts to answer rhetorical questions in songs, for example “How deep is the ocean, how high is the sky?”. One chapter was on “Do you know the way to San Jose?”, the answer to which depends on which San Jose you are headed to; the way to San José, Costa Rica is very different from the way to San Jose, California (which is undoubtedly the one Hal David had in mind). Right then, I heard on the bookshop’s sound system:

doof … doof … doof … doof …  
woah … woah … woah.woah … woah … woah…woah.woah … woah … woah

The simplest answer to the question “Do you know the way to San Jose?” is “Yes” (or “No”), but communicative cooperation means we can’t actually say that.

That’s a moray

A document referred to someone transgressing the social morays of his community. Morays for mores is not a knew misteak. The Eggcorn Database (2005) and Language Log (2004) have both discussed it. I was surprised to find that mores is far moor common in general than morays – more often the misteak is using a moor common word in place of a less common one. That has to be wayed against the fact that morays is a moor obvious spelling. The traffic seems to be all one weigh – I can’t imagine that anyone writing about Muraenidae (I had to look that up – I am not a marine biologist) types mores by misteak. 

Social mores mostly come in plurals. A singular social more exists but is used less often. Technically, won of them is a social mos but I doubt if even the most ardent Latinist says or writes that.

Talking about this with my colleagues, I couldn’t help mentioning the song That’s amore. Many years ago I encountered the parody:

When an eel bites your knee as you swim in the sea, that’s a moray.

The next day one of my colleagues complained that the song had been stuck in her head all day. I said: 

When it sticks in your head as you’re lying in bed, that’s an earworm.  

(PS sea watt I did their?)

Sing Noël! Sing Gloria!

It was probably inevitable that a married couple of songwriters named Noël and Gloria would write a Christmas song. Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne wrote Do you hear what I hear? (first recording, by the Harry Simeone Chorale) in October 1962. 

Or maybe not, because his name was actually Léon, and he was hesitant to write a Christmas song due to the commercialisation of Christmas. Noël wrote the words, influenced by the then-current Cuban Missile Crisis and Gloria the music.

Gloria came into English straight from Latin, and also via Old French glorie to become Middle English glory. I couldn’t figure out what the origin of noël (or noel) might be, and would not have guessed that it comes from Latin diēs nātālis day of birth (compare nativity). French did drastic things to Latin (note also that glorie became gloire), but that one is a stretch. Noël is a relatively late arrival into English, dating from 1805-1815. The First Nowell was first published in 1823.

Ceiling wax

One song I remember from my childhood is Puff, the magic dragon, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary and written by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton. For some time I wondered what

ceiling wax

is. I don’t know how I found out that it is, in fact

sealing wax.

I obviously knew about ceilings before I knew about sealings.

Ceiling is a strange word. It ends with -ing, but it’s not related to a verb; we don’t usually ceil ceilings like we build buildings. (Someone has flippantly suggested that we should call them builts.) In fact we do, or buildingers do, whether they call it that or not. Dictionary.com records the verb ceil, meaning

1. to overlay (the ceiling of a building or room) with wood, plaster, etc.
2. to provide with a ceiling 

dating from 1400–50, from late Middle English celen to cover, to panel, followed by a rather vague < ? 

Seal is ultimately from Latin signum and is related to sign. The animal seal is from Old English with cognates in Old Norse and Old High German. There is a story that one holder of the British government office of Lord Privy Seal objected to being addressed as such because he wasn’t a lord, a privy or a seal.  

While I was researching for this post, I found a blog called of ceiling wax, which is about “reading YA, graphic novels and the spaces in between”. Its not-immediately-named author quotes Lewis Carroll’s The walrus and the carpenter (text, Wikipedia), which I’m not as familiar with and didn’t think of. She/he also originally mistook this for ceiling wax.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.” 

Some of Carroll’s poems are direct parodies of the poems Alice Liddell would have been familiar with, but this seems to be totally original. 

PS 3 Oct: information about the poems Carroll parodied.


Some years ago (first guess, last century, more likely the 1980s than the 1990s) I heard a song Is ’e an Aussie, is ’e Lizzie? by the duo Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam (I seem to remember simply ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’). At the time I didn’t have access to the resources of the internet but I have recently found that they were the English songwriter/pianist/tenor Bentley Collingwood Hilliam and the New Zealand bass Malcolm McEachern. They performed light comic “with mild social commentary” and sentimental songs. (I also accidentally found the thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam, who presumably don’t.)

Is ’e an Aussie is apparently typical. (I recently included a link in a comment to a recent post, and my number one commenter of recent times, Batchman, said that it didn’t work in the USA. Try here or here or here, or search for ‘Is ’e an Aussie Flotsam Jetsam’.) It features rapid-fire and witty rhyming, almost all of it to do with Australia. In fact, in the first rhyme, Lizzie tells her girlfriend:

Mary-Anne I’ve met a man who says he’s an Austray-lee-an 

She says that he:

Throws a fond eye, talks of Bondi

But later we learn that:

He, being well-born, lived in Melbourne

Hang on …

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A prescriptivist’s playlist

I’ve been listening to a lot of pop song compilations recently. With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek:

All shaken up
Another somebody did somebody wrong song
Bobby McGee and I
Doesn’t it make my brown eyes blue?
I can’t get any satisfaction or I can get no satisfaction
I have you, babe or I’ve got you, babe 
Lie, lady, lie
Lo que será, será
Love me tenderly
Mrs Jones and I
There isn’t any mountain high enough or There’s no mountain high enough
Two fewer lonely people in the world
You haven’t seen anything yet or You’ve seen nothing yet

1) One of these definitely doesn’t belong here, because the original is unquestionably correct (or at least is questionable in another way). A free lifetime subscription to this blog to anyone who can point out which.

2) I stuck with titles, being easier to search for. I’m sure there are many more titles and many, many more lyrics. You can search for ‘pop music grammar errors’ to find more examples of ‘errors’, including within song lyrics. Some of these ‘errors’ actually are, but most of the lists fail to take into account that …

3) Informal spoken (or sung) English exists. I can (in some cases only just) accept each of the originals here as common informal spoken (or sung) English. That doesn’t mean that I say or write them, or would accept them without question in an ESL class. I said many times “Many people say X, but ‘correct, exam English’ is Y”.

[PS It’s possible that Two less lonely people in the world is prescriptively correct, too, if it is interpreted as Two + less lonely + people. But it’s hardly romantic to say “Before I met you, I was lonely. Now I am … less lonely.”]

my guide

Speaking of bachs: In December 1933 the German composer Richard Strauss wrote a song titled Das Bächlein, (originally for voice and piano but the first recording that came up is for voice and orchestra), in which a wanderer asks a mountain stream where it came from and where it is going. It answers “I come from the womb of dark rocks. A merry childlike spirit drives me onward, I know not whither. He who called me forth from the rock, He, I think, shall be my guide.”

Strauss set the words for my guide rhapsodically. There can be no doubt that he realised the double meaning of mein führer (leader/guide). There is still debate about his interactions with the Nazi regime, even though he was cleared by a denazification tribunal in 1948. In the early days he might have seen it as the (or a) solution to the chaos of the previous 20 years, but after he reluctantly accepted the position of president of the Reichsmusikkammer he quickly lost whatever illusions he had and fell from favour, especially because of his professional relationship with author Stefan Zweig and personal relationship with his daughter-in-law and her family. The song wasn’t published until after his death. 

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Yesterday I had the sudden thought that we don’t say good-mouth as the equal and opposite of bad-mouth. We may compliment or speak well or highly of people, but we don’t go around good-mouthing them. Maybe we should.

Wikitionary and Dictionary.com trace it to a calque from an expression in a Mande language of West Africa, which entered US English via Gullah. Wiktionary also adds “Compare Japanese 悪口 [waruguchi] (“to badmouth”), which is a compound of 悪 [waru] (“bad, wicked”) and 口 [kuchi] (“mouth”)”. I can also think of Latin maledicere/maledico/maledictus (compare English maledict (rare), malediction), so if three such widely separated languages have a word for it, then surely it’s not uncommon. See also Latin benedicere/benedico/ benedictio and English benedict (not used in this sense), benediction

But imagine that one bus driver drives carefully the whole way, while another starts a sign language conversation with a person sitting in the front passenger seat (which really happened some years ago). Which one am I likely to tell you about, or to complain to the bus company about (I didn’t; another passenger asked him to stop it, and he did)? How many large companies have complaints departments instead of compliments departments? Some websites allow the giving of feedback about how we are doing. I’ll guess that at least 90% of the feedback is negative. 

Many years ago I saw a cartoon of one person complaining about everything to another, who is trying to interrupt. The last panel shows that they are at the complaints counter of a department store. See also Douglas Adams’s Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Department, which is “the only part of the company to still turn a profit”. 

Online searches for good-mouth found oral and dental products and treatments. Searches for bad-mouth found those alongside the criticise meaning. 

Coincidentally, while I was drafting this post, Browse TV Tropes showed me Accentuate the Negative, which discusses and gives examples of this. Accentuate the Positive is a song by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen.

between you and I

Several weeks ago at the gym I heard a song which begins:

There’s a thousand miles between you and I. 

Two years ago (to the day, coincidentally), I posted about the usage of the equivalent of you and I/me as subject, direct object and object of a preposition, so I wasn’t going to post just about that. (I seem to remember that the next song correctly had you and me after a verb or preposition.)

Yesterday I posted about the song Yesterday, and Batchman, who has been my number 1 commenter recently, said, among other things:

In general, using pop songs to illustrate grammar treads on risky ground. Think about all the songs with some variant of “for you and I” in them.

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