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View Full Version : Marzy Dotes: once meaningful lyrics surviving as nonsense?


Koxinga
12-18-2008, 07:46 AM
I wonder if this has ever happened. Lemme 'splain:

When I was a kid, my dad would sing a nonsense song that went

Marzy Dotes an Dozy Dots
An little lamzydyevee
Akiddlee eyveetoo
Wuddnyoo?

I honestly thought that was something he picked up from the natives during the war in Southeast Asia. And he indicated that he himself didn't know what it meant.

Until recently, he and I each separately realized:

Mares eat oats and does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy . . . and so on.

Now if I had never had that realization, but went on to sing such nonsense lyrics to my kid, and she to hers, eventually it would be a complete nonsense song that once meant something. Wait long enough, and even the original lyrics would be unintelligible to a latter day speaker.

So are there any nursery rhymes or folk songs that have unwitting mangled lines in Occitan or whatever?

Martini Enfield
12-18-2008, 07:57 AM
So are there any nursery rhymes or folk songs that have unwitting mangled lines in Occitan or whatever?

I read somewhere reasonably reputable (Reader's Digest Book Of Interesting Shit You Didn't Know But Can Bore People At Parties With or something similar) that there's an Island in the North Sea or somewhere like that, which was occupied by British Soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. The Islanders spoke one of the Scandinavian languages, but apparently still have a "nonsense" nursery rhyme phrase dating from that period that goes:

Jek og Jil vent op de hil/ent Jil com tamblin ofter

("Jack and Jill", of course).

Apparently Nursery Rhymes are really useful for Linguists and Language Detectives because they remain unchanged despite the passage of time; they get passed down as they were when they were first created even if they appear to be nonsense two centuries later.

panache45
12-18-2008, 07:57 AM
If you had ever heard the actual song, "Mairzy Doats," it explains itself.

SurrenderDorothy
12-18-2008, 08:17 AM
Mairzy doats and dozey doats
and little lambsy divey
a kiddleeativytoo wouldn't you?

if the words sound queer or funny to your ear
a little bit jumbled or jivey
sing "mares eat oats
and does eat oats
and little lambs eat ivy"

Prelude to Fascination
12-18-2008, 08:22 AM
Great. Now I've got that song stuck in my head.

I'd also like to add that in my office, "jivey" will be the word of the day. I'm not sure in what context, but I'll find some way to work into a conversation.

RealityChuck
12-18-2008, 08:40 AM
Surrender Dorothy is correct -- the original song (which IIRC, dates from the 1940s or so) had an explanation of the lyrics. You just learned the first half.

Ichbin Dubist
12-18-2008, 09:12 AM
I'm sure there are any number of folk songs where the most common version is kind of garbled. The example that comes to mind is Wildwood Flower (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildwood_Flower), where most versions contain at least a small dollop of nonsense, like "my mingles":


Although originally a parlor song, the song had undergone quite a bit of the folk process by the time the Carter Family recorded it. For example, the original first verse was:

I'll twine 'mid the ringlets of my raven black hair,
The lilies so pale and the roses so fair,
The myrtle so bright with an emerald hue,
And the pale aronatus with eyes of bright blue.

The better-known Carter Family version begins:

Oh, I'll twine with my mingles and waving black hair,
With the roses so red and the lilies so fair,
And the myrtle so bright with the emerald dew,
The pale and the leader and eyes look like blue.

Biffy the Elephant Shrew
12-18-2008, 09:25 AM
From the time I was a child I always heard it as "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy" to begin with. It wasn't until I saw it written that I realized it was supposed to be nonsense words. But then, I was hearing my mother singing it, not the original record.

Elendil's Heir
12-18-2008, 11:43 AM
Some more info on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mairzy_Doats

jayjay
12-18-2008, 12:45 PM
I just wanted to note that I first learned this song from Carol and Paula on The Magic Garden (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_Garden_(TV_series)) out of WPIX in NYC. Every time I hear it or read the lyrics I can still see that show.

Peanut Gallery
12-18-2008, 12:54 PM
The only record of this song in my mind is Leland Palmer singing it while dancing around the Great Northern Hotel.

Poor Leland.

Zebra
12-18-2008, 01:32 PM
The only record of this song in my mind is Leland Palmer singing it while dancing around the Great Northern Hotel.

Poor Leland.


Yea, I learned this song from Twin Peaks as well.

amarinth
12-18-2008, 01:34 PM
Now if I had never had that realization, but went on to sing such nonsense lyrics to my kid, and she to hers, eventually it would be a complete nonsense song that once meant something. Wait long enough, and even the original lyrics would be unintelligible to a latter day speaker.My mother spent some time in Puerto Rico as a child, but never learned Spanish (French, yes, Spanish, no). She did pick up a nursery rhyme/child's song that she taught to me & my sister.

We did learn Spanish, and learned that the sounds she had taught us weren't actually weren't actually words in Spanish, especially since they started "Un bon matin" which made us think it was some kind of wake-up-in-the-morning song that had gotten garbled in through French & Puerto Rican Spanish to us.

About a year ago, through the wonders of the internet, we stumbled upon the real song which is about "Don Martin" who got the measels and died.

chacoguy
12-18-2008, 01:49 PM
Auld lange syne?

mobo85
12-18-2008, 01:52 PM
About a year ago, through the wonders of the internet, we stumbled upon the real song which is about "Don Martin" who got the measels and died.

What strange noise do measles make?

amarinth
12-18-2008, 01:54 PM
What strange noise do measles make?According to the song, "bo ro ro ro ro"

AHunter3
12-18-2008, 02:48 PM
re: nursery rhyme lyrics and whatnot whose original meaning got lost in the mists of antiquity...

[possible Urban Legend alert]

I have heard that "eeny meeny miney moe" is a counting sequence akin to "one two three four", and that so is "hickory dickory dock" (equiv to "ten eleven twelve" in this case).

[UL alert]

kunilou
12-18-2008, 08:58 PM
As we all learned in American history (at least until they truncated the early years to make room for everything that happened after WW2), "Yankee Doodle" was originally sung by the British to mock the ragtag Revolutionary troops -- a "Doodle" being a fool or simpleton. And "macaroni" had nothing to do with pasta; it was a term for an overly dandified style of fashion.

Johnny L.A.
12-18-2008, 09:27 PM
Some more info on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mairzy_Doats

I came in to mention that the idea came from Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and liddle sharksy doisters. I read the entry a while ago, when Mairzy Doats was going through my brain.

WhyNot
12-18-2008, 09:36 PM
I'd wager 9/10 of American schoolchildren couldn't translate "Frère Jacques" for you, but it's a ubiquitous children's song in America.

ETA: In fact, I always thought it funny that the English version is an announcement ("Morning bells are ringing!") whereas the French version is a command ("Ring the morning bells!")

Aspidistra
12-18-2008, 09:59 PM
Clearly the English are just less bossy than the French ;)

(or it just scans better...)

The song that leaps to my mind for nonsense lyrics is Innanay (http://myjellybeansmusic.com.au/INNANAY.pdf), a traditional Aboriginal song. Except, to the best of my knowledge, it doesn't actually mean anything in any extant Aboriginal language (though there are a lot of them to go through)

Youtube version (http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=Tv7t6FfeIwY) (I have no idea if this is any good or not - I have no sound on this computer)

Across
12-18-2008, 10:30 PM
It isn't a song or nursery rhyme, but there's an Australian author who wrote poems in "Strine". I remember translating "Hagger Nigh Tell" in high school English class.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afferbeck_Lauder

phouka
12-18-2008, 10:56 PM
re: nursery rhyme lyrics and whatnot whose original meaning got lost in the mists of antiquity...

[possible Urban Legend alert]

I have heard that "eeny meeny miney moe" is a counting sequence akin to "one two three four", and that so is "hickory dickory dock" (equiv to "ten eleven twelve" in this case).

[UL alert]

I was going to post that. I remember reading it in Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. Eenie meenie minie moe - it's supposed to be from a pre-Anglic tongue, possibly one that was spoken while the Romans occupied Great Britain.

I hadn't heard that about hickory dickory dock, though. Cool.

commasense
12-18-2008, 11:55 PM
The OP made me think of Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames (http://aescon.com/aesconsulting/french/). This delightful 1967 book by Louis d'Antin van Rooten requires a slightly more sophisticated reader than Mairzy doats. You need to know English and be able to read (or at least correctly pronounce) French.

Here's a sample. (The link above provides three others, without giving away the secret. Google elsewhere if you can't figure it out.)

Un petit d'un petit
S'étonne aux Halles
Un petit d'un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent
Indolent qui ne sort cesse
Indolent qui ne se mène
Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
Tout Gai de Reguennes.

The author helpfully points out that when read aloud, "these poems assume a strangely familiar, almost nostalgic, homely quality." Enjoy.

Kamino Neko
12-19-2008, 12:12 AM
The OP made me think of Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames (http://aescon.com/aesconsulting/french/).

My French is inadequate to get the last two, and it's driving me nuts!

Edit - Actually, I just worked out the last one...the third one is still not working for me.

Aspidistra
12-19-2008, 12:23 AM
Roses are red, violets are blue


:) Those were fun

Kamino Neko
12-19-2008, 12:28 AM
Aaaah!

Thanks, now it makes sense. The longer ones are easier, since there are more chances for them to click...

Vox Imperatoris
12-19-2008, 12:31 AM
I have always remembered this tune as "Little lambs a dozy" not "Little lambs e divy". I don't know why, though.

Valete,
Vox Imperatoris

panache45
12-19-2008, 08:29 AM
Here's something seasonal. Our chorus just performed "This Special Holiday Presentation," which includes:

Trim up the tree with Christmas stuff, like dingle balls and hoo-foo fluff.
Trim up the tree with goo-goo gums, and bizzle-finks, and wumps!
. . .
Hang up koo-hoo-hoo bricks, then run out and get some more!
Hang pantookas on the ceiling, pile pampoonas on the floor.
. . .
Trim up the tree with buzzle fuzz, and blipper bloops, and wuzzle-wuhs.
Trim up your uncles and your aunts with yards of hoo-fron,
Trim up the tree with yards of hoo-fron plants!

That's only a small part of a long medley, which also includes "Fahoo forays, dahoo dorays." It took forever to memorize.

Martini Enfield
12-19-2008, 08:48 AM
Interestingly, this thread is the first time I've ever heard of this "Marzy Dotes" Nursery Rhyme; is it a largely American one, perhaps?

jayjay
12-19-2008, 09:16 AM
Interestingly, this thread is the first time I've ever heard of this "Marzy Dotes" Nursery Rhyme; is it a largely American one, perhaps?

It's not a nursery rhyme. It's a novelty song composed in 1943. As someone upthread noted, it IS based on an English nursery rhyme, "Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and liddle sharksy doisters", though.

Kalhoun
12-19-2008, 09:38 AM
A b. C d puppies? M n o puppies. O s a r!

Martini Enfield
12-19-2008, 09:51 AM
It's not a nursery rhyme. It's a novelty song composed in 1943. As someone upthread noted, it IS based on an English nursery rhyme, "Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and liddle sharksy doisters", though.

I can't say I'm familiar with that one, either...

mobo85
12-19-2008, 10:00 AM
Here's something seasonal. Our chorus just performed "This Special Holiday Presentation," which includes:

Trim up the tree with Christmas stuff, like dingle balls and hoo-foo fluff.
Trim up the tree with goo-goo gums, and bizzle-finks, and wumps!
. . .
Hang up koo-hoo-hoo bricks, then run out and get some more!
Hang pantookas on the ceiling, pile pampoonas on the floor.
. . .
Trim up the tree with buzzle fuzz, and blipper bloops, and wuzzle-wuhs.
Trim up your uncles and your aunts with yards of hoo-fron,
Trim up the tree with yards of hoo-fron plants!

This is just pure nonsense, plain and simple- written by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss for the 1966 special How The Grinch Stole Christmas! When it comes to silly words, Dr. Seuss was the king.

jayjay
12-19-2008, 10:03 AM
This is just pure nonsense, plain and simple- written by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss for the 1966 special How The Grinch Stole Christmas! When it comes to silly words, Dr. Seuss was the king.

I was going to say that the "fahoo-foray, dahoo-doray" sounded awfully familiar...

Johnny L.A.
12-19-2008, 10:34 AM
A b. C d puppies? M n o puppies. O s a r!

C D E D B D ducks?
M R not ducks!
M R! C D E D B D wing?
L I B! M R ducks!

Kalhoun
12-19-2008, 10:41 AM
C D E D B D ducks?
M R not ducks!
M R! C D E D B D wing?
L I B! M R ducks!

We must have the same WWII era aunt!

Johnny L.A.
12-19-2008, 10:46 AM
Interestingly, this thread is the first time I've ever heard of this "Marzy Dotes" Nursery Rhyme; is it a largely American one, perhaps?

I was hoping to show you a link to a scene from Woody Allen's Radio Days that features the song, but all I could find is this Spanish-language clip (http://youtube.com/watch?v=jCB8G4adYhI). The song is in English, but the brief explanation of it and the narrator's description of what happened that day are not.

Johnny L.A.
12-19-2008, 10:47 AM
We must have the same WWII era aunt!

I think I heard it back in the '90s. Some comic doing a bit on 'How to speak Southern'.

samclem
12-19-2008, 08:51 PM
I think I heard it back in the '90s. Some comic doing a bit on 'How to speak Southern'. I saw this as a mimeographed page in the early 1980s. From my West Virginia secretary.

panamajack
12-19-2008, 09:17 PM
Just a few years back there was the "Ketchup Song" which included Spanish-nonsense lyrics for the chorus:

Aserejé ja de jé de jebe
Tu de jebere sebiunouba
Majabi an de bugui an de buididipi

It's a garbled version of "Rapper's Delight" ( "I said a hip, hop, a hippie..." )

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