Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

I Ride the Songs

Posted by Neal on December 15, 2004

Now for some more ambiguous song lyrics, Christmas edition. Here’s a line from “Jingle Bells” that always makes me think for a second or two:

Bells on bobtail ring,
making spirits bright.
What fun it is to ride and sing
a sleighing song tonight!

How exactly does one ride a song?, I wonder. Oh, wait, it’s not:

[ride] and [sing] a sleighing song,

it’s

[ride] and [sing a sleighing song]!

That’s hard to get, man: a coordination that looks like it ends nice and neat at the end of a line, but really has the second coordinate stretching all the way to the end of the next line!

8 Responses to “I Ride the Songs”

  1. I believe “Bobtail” should be capitalized, as that is the horse’s name.

  2. jeff said

    …and we can we talk about “upsot” for a second? Yeah, yeah, creative license, rhyme scheme, whatever; to me, it looks like the “past tense” of “upset”.

  3. Anonymous said

    This, for some reason, reminds me of Tom Petty’s song, “Free Falling.” It starts with:

    he`s a good girl, loves her mama
    loves jesus and america too
    she`s a good girl, crazy `bout elvis
    loves horses and her boyfriend too…
    I was 17 or so when that song came out, and I wondered to myself, “Loves horses and her boyfriend in the same way? Ew!”

    — Grig

  4. Anonymous said

    Glen – I don’t believe the horse’s name is Bobtail. Tail bobbing is a practice used to bunch the hairs of the tail into a ball at the base of the rump. For horses enslaved in a hitch, the bobbed tail keeps the long hair from tangling in the various parts of the hitch mechanism.

  5. Given that so many Christmas songs are handed down in their original forms over hundreds of years, it’s not surprising that the archaic language usages in them might cause some confusion. I remember a Peanuts strip where Linus added up all the gifts given in 12 Days of Christmas (12 partridges, 22 turtledoves, etc.), not realizing that the singer was giving a running total of all gifts received thus far instead of listing the gifts given on each day. (If the song were written today, it would probably go, “As of the 12th day of Christmas, my true love had given to me…”)

    The Christmas songs that always gave me a little comprehensional trouble as a younger man were from “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Sleigh Ride”. I had trouble understanding the meaning of the former, at first; I heard it as “God rest ye, merry gentlemen” and imagined it had something to do with making sure the merry gentlemen got a good night’s sleep. However, I later figured out that it was actually “God rest ye merry, gentlemen”—in other words, “May God make sure that you gentlemen stay merry.”

    The other thing was the line from “Sleigh Ride” that goes, “We’re snuggled up together like two birds of a feather would be.” When I was singing it in school, I often wondered what birds of a feather were and how the songwriter knew for certain that they would be snuggled up together. Is that normal bird behavior? Was the songwriter an ornithologist or something? I thought it might be better to sing the song as “two birds of a feather might be,” since after all I didn’t have any way of knowing they wouldn’t be snuggled up together either.

    Of course, my all-time favorite misunderstanding lyrics story about Christmas songs is the famous Round John Virgin anecdote—though that’s more of a mondegreen than a misunderstanding of the actual words…

  6. […] Naughty and Nice? I’ve started to get a few more hits on my posts on Christmas songs, so I’ll write about one that I never got around to last year or the year […]

  7. […] I never would have gotten that, and that’s saying something for a guy who wonders how you can ride a sleighing song. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  8. No, those aren’t the right words. The right words are:

    What fun it is to write and sing
    a sleighing song tonight!

    Clearly “riding” a song isn’t what you do… you “write” a song.

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