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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Azizi Origins: Swing Your Tail (chanty, worksong) (38) RE: Origins: Swing Your Tail (chanty, worksong) 19 Jan 13


"I have not speculated on the meaning of "swing your tail" mainly because I don't tend to do that. If pressed, I would say that if the meaning is not literal, then it may have had something to do with swinging a line...tossing a rope on a boat."
-Gib

Okay.

I suppose it's possible that the phrase "mind how you swing your tail" could have begun as an admonition to shantymen to be careful how they swung ropes (and specifically, the tail ends of ropes). But if so, I think it's likely that that meaning of "tail" eventually (quickly?) changed in renditions of this song [as shanties and as dance songs] to the one in which the word "tail" referred to "buttocks".

I wonder which is the earliest documented use of the word "tail" as "buttock", "butt", "ass"?

In an earlier comment to this thread Lighter wrote that "If the "tail" is not meant literally, it could well refer to the tail of a formal "swallowtail" coat being "swung" while dancing."

That suggestion should be rejected unless it is revised to say that (when it refers to males dancing) if "tail" is not meant literally, it could well refer to the tail of a formal "swallowtail" coat being "swung" while dancing."

My assumption is that females didn't wear that article of clothing. However, there are verses of this song that specifically refer to females and which include females in the general referent for "everybody".

"Everybody gather 'round.
Young gal, go swing your tail,
Everybody get 'round this boat,
Young gal, go swing your tail."


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