Mudcat Café message #1354308 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #50747   Message #1354308
Posted By: Nerd
11-Dec-04 - 06:27 PM
Thread Name: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
John, I think you are taking this far too personally.

I am saying the same thing, essentially, as Lighter about the names. Any name that begins with M can be transformed in one or two leaps to Magadee and produce the same list you did. Or Sarah Dean can become Sarah Dee can become Sagadee can become Magadee and produce the same list. So what?

Your "experiment" would prove nothing, precisely because you asked me NOT to relate it to any of the names on your list. Then I am to relate it--what--to no names from any of the songs? In that case what is the logical motivation? It is only by purposely relating it to your list that we can show how easily any name can become the starting point for that same chain of conjecture.

To wit:

Barbara Dane
Babby D.
Magadee

etc., etc.

I don't see this as any less plausible than your series. But I doubt if John Henry's wife was really Barbara Dane.

As for why your argument is circular:

The assumption is that she was originally called Margaret. You only make that assumption because you are trying to prove a specific hypothesis which requires that as a premise. So it is one of your premises. It is also ultimately what you are attempting to show.

A non-circular form of the same argument would begin with Polly-Ann and trace it back to "Margaret" not because you thought the historical person was named Margaret but because it was the most plausible name to give rise to Polly Ann. That is not the case. Any number of names might give rise to Polly Ann through the same series of conjectures, as Lighter and I have shown.

The relevance here is Nerd's contention that if John Henry's wife's name really was "Margaret," and if she really was known as "Maggie," then "Maggie" should have been recovered in some version. I don't think so. It might have been, but I give no weight whatever to the fact that it hasn't been (unless you count "Maggadee," which I'm inclined to regard as "close enough").

Mance Lipscomb's "Ella Speed" and others provide studies in how far transmission can drive a ballad from its source materials. "Frankie," I suppose, is the classic example of extreme mutations.


Okay, let's take "Frankie and Albert" as an example if you want. "Frankie" and "Albert" were, to begin with, their actual names. The fact that a significant number of versions call them just that argues AGAINST your thesis, not for it. No song calls John Henry "Henry Dabney," and no song calls his wife "Margaret" or even "Maggie D." So this is exactly the opposite of (say) "Stagolee," whose name was Stag Lee, or of "Frankie and Albert," whose names were Frankie and Albert, or of "Omie Wise," whose name was Naomi Wise, etc. In these cases, some of the most common versions of the songs give them thoroughly recognizable names. Not so "John Henry."


The relevance here is Nerd's contention that if John Henry's wife's name really was "Margaret," and if she really was known as "Maggie," then "Maggie" should have been recovered in some version. I don't think so. It might have been, but I give no weight whatever to the fact that it hasn't been (unless you count "Maggadee," which I'm inclined to regard as "close enough").

This is simply a statement that you give no weight at all to the holes in your theory, but lots of weight to its strong points. That's not the best analytical methodology, I'm afraid. For your theory about the mutations of these names in tradition to be true, there MUST have been some songs that called her "Maggie D." Why did these all disappear? Is Maggie D. somehow not familiar, interesting, or simple enough? Sounds pretty plain to me...