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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
dulcimer Word meaning--rigadoo (49) RE: Word meaning--rigadoo 20 Sep 98


I posed the question as to the meaning of Rigadoo to past the information on to another forum I follow. Apparently the meaning of the word generated some additional research. The following might be of some interest and I provide it for your opinion.-- There followed some very well researched and clever responses. The first was that "rigadoo" was a form of the word "rigadun" meaning a French courtly dance. Someone else posed that a rigadoo is a cane or walking stick(that would have been my first guess). Finally, I thought that Wayne Seymour(Conan the Librarian)had put the issue to rest when he maintained(after consultation with a Brit friend)that a rigadoo is a backpack - the term being derived from the word "rig".

Since I'm the one who taught the song to Lynne and gave her the words, I felt duty bound to pursue the question as far as I could. So, after he returned from Ireland at the end of August, I posed the question to Bernard Lane, a true Irishman - born in Ireland and lived most of his life there. Bernard is also the most knowledgeable and respected Irish songster here in Atlanta. He plays accordion and knows more Irish songs than just about anybody I have ever met. Bernard knows THE JOLLY BEGGARMAN, and, like most of us who sing it, never thought about the meaning of "rigadoo". His first guess, however, was that it was a corrupted form of the word "rigadoon", which is, in turn, the English form of the word "rigaudon" which is that French courtly dance that came up first in discussions in this forum. I found it interesting at that point that Bernard knew right away what a rigadoon was.

After posing the question to several of the Hibernian patriarchs in Atlanta's Irish community(true Irishmen all), Bernard informs me that the consensus in the Irish community here is that a "rigadoo" is indeed that French dance as it was done in Ireland. It is not a backpack. These are the reasons he gave for the opinion:

1)There is no incidence in song or in common speech that Bernard or any other Irish folk song experts know where "rig" or "rigadoo" means a backpack in Irish-English parlance. A "rig" may be a backpack in England, but it certainly doesn't mean that in Ireland.

2)The most compelling evidence comes from the last verse of the song:

So all along the highroad with my bag upon my back Over the fields with my bulging heavy sack With holes in my shoes and my toes a-peepin' through Singing "Skin-a-ma-link-a-doodle" with my ould rigadoo Oh I must be going to bed, for it's getting late at night The fire is all reaked and now 'tis out the light For now you've heard the story of my ould rigadoo So good-bye and God be with you, from old Johnny Dhu.

Here the phrase, "Skin-a-ma-link-a-doodle", sounds like something the beggarman would sing to accompany his whimsical dance. Also, the rigadoo is mentioned in conjunction with the reference to the beggarman's shoes and toes, terms most easily associated with dancing. Finally, the beggarman's backpack is referred to as a "bag" and as a "sack" - it is unlikely that "rigadoo" would refer to the same thing outside of the first poetical doublet.

3)There is no problem with the fact that the rigaudon was a French courtly dance. Common dances were frequently patterned after courtly ones, and even more frequently, courtly dances were patterned after common ones. Further, there were many Irish sailors and businessmen who traded with foreign countries in the 17th and 18th centuries, so many elements of French culture were brought to Ireland where they were accepted and practiced. A well-known example of this is the French "gigue" which eventually became the Irish "jig". Bernard knows for a fact that the rigadoon was commonly danced in Ireland from the 17th until the early 19th centuries.

So Bernard's conclusion is that "rigadoo" is a purposefully corrupted form of the English word "rigadoon" meaning the originally French dance "rigaudon" or "rigodon". It was changed for the song so that it would rhyme with the name of the song's main character, Johnny Dhu. My own research has shown that the rigaudon originated as a common dance in the south of France. It became popular as a courtly dance in the late 17th century and eventually spread to become popular throughout Europe. In England it was especially popular where it was known as the "rigadoon" - thus the beggarman's "rigadoo".--So what do you think mudcatters?


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