Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Gettin’ Down on the Farm

Posted by Neal on October 20, 2005

Doug and the rest of the first-graders went on a field trip to a farm today, and so all day I’ve had this song running through my head. It was a hit by Tim McGraw in 1995, and starts like this:

Every Friday night there’s a steady cloud of dust
That leads back to a field filled with pickup trucks.
Got old Hank cranking way up loud
Got coolers in the back,
Tailgates down.
There’s a big fire burnin’, but don’t be alarmed,
It’sjust country boys and girls gettin’ down on the farm.

The line country boys and girls gettin’ down on the farm is repeated in every verse and in the chorus, so when I first started hearing the song I figured the title must be something like, “Gettin’ Down on the Farm.” Later, I was surprised to find out that it was actually called “Down on the Farm.”

Hold on, now. That changes things. I had thought the down went with gettin’, as in “dancing, partying, and having fun in general.” But now they were telling me that the down goes with on the farm, just like it goes with on the corner in the similarly-titled song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, or with by the bay in the traditional kids’ song. In other words, where I thought I was hearing this:

[ [gettin' down] [on the farm] ],

I was really hearing this:

[ gettin’ [down on the farm] ].

What they’re telling me is: It’s not that they country boys and girls are boogieing on the farm; they’re arriving at a state of being down on the farm. Is that what they’re telling me? Because the rest of the lyrics strongly suggest the “boogie” reading.

Or maybe the reading was supposed to be “country boys and girls getting down down on the farm,” and one of the downs was haplologized, the same as you might say, “Did you get everything you wanted to get done?” instead of “Did you get everything you wanted to get done done?” (Actually, I make sure to say both dones, but it sure does sound weird.)

Hey, thinking about all this has made me realize: You can also get down on a farm by going there and plucking a goose!

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12 Responses to “Gettin’ Down on the Farm”

  1. Thalassa said

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I’m literal-minded myself, but maybe not such a stickler for grammar as yourself. Cheers, and thanks for the entertaining AND intelligent reading.

  2. Is it possible that they are becoming psychologically depressed, on a farm?

  3. brenton said

    maybe they were [gettin' down][on the farm] and the title is completely seperate, since [down on the farm] is where the song is about.

  4. Anonymous said

    Don’t you ever say ‘Did you get done everything you wanted to get done?’ Just as incorrect as the first option you present, but doesn’t it just feel right?

  5. Neal said

    Anonymous: Your phrasing sounds right and IS right. You’re allowed to rephrase “get X done” as “get done X” if X is long enough. In this case, X = everything you wanted to get done. (The linguists’ name for this is “heavy-NP shift.”) But if I forget to say the done before I start in on everything you wanted to get done, then I either have to start again, or stubbornly stay on the course I’ve embarked upon. Often I’ll choose the latter, just to hear how bad it sounds.

  6. Jason Bontrager said

    So is there a linguistic term for intentionally leaving out a word so as to imply something that you don’t want to state explicitly? They boys and girls might very well be gettin’ *something* down on the farm, but the lyricist just doesn’t want to come right out and say what that something *is*.

  7. cleek said

    i’d go with “gettin [some] down on the farm”

  8. Anton said

    In a collection of world music, I have a song whose title is given as Dil Laga Ya Ta; the refrain goes Dil laga ya / Ta dil legi. Whatever that means.

  9. marklow said

    I’m gonna go with the psychologically depressed read (down on my luck), or even better, the nagging and oppressive version (bearing down on me).

    “Everyone’s gettin’ down on the farm, but I think things will turn around.”

    Is the song about The Grapes of Wrath?

  10. Amanda said

    I just found your blog while looking for ambiguous song lyrics to share with my 12th grade lit. students, and I’ll definitely be bookmarking it.

    Country songs are notorious for such ambiguity. Remember “On The Other Hand,” performed by Randy Travis? It’s more a case of semantic ambiguity than syntactic, but the same general effect. There was a great short article about country music ambiguity in this book if you’re interested in more.

  11. Amanda said

    Now that I think of it, I’d like to share your whole article with my students. I hope you don’t mind. I will credit you fully!

  12. carol collins said

    There was a video in the 90’s that I believe had the title Down on the Farm. It had what appeared to be young English singers in a farm setting. It was funny and I am trying to find it for my son as he loved it then. Thanks Carol

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