Date: Sun, 23 Nov 1997 21:43:52 EST
From: Larry Horn LHORN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALEVM.CIS.YALE.EDU
Subject: Re: Seeing the Elephant & W(h)etting your Whistle
FWIW, this from the liner notes to "Debby McClatchy with the Red City
Ramblers", re the first song on this 1983 album, "Seeing the Elephant", by
"There was no real folk music to come out of the California gold rush.
Most songs were written by professional broadside composers and performed
music-hall style. Traveling goups of singers, dancers and musicians set up
in the canvas soloons of the mining camps or in the more permanent theater
section of San Francisco. The melodies were familiar, to encourage singing
along (in this case, "Boatman Dance") and the words were mainly parodies on
the hardships of a miner's life.
"David Robinson came from New England to San Francisco, where he put
together a review called "Seeing the Elephant." This...is generally ac-
knowledged as the first song written in California dealing with the rush.
Men getting ready for the trail to California met with stories of huge
mammoths waiting on the plains; anyone who had seen the elephant had been
through it all.
On the second item--curiously, coming among the flurry of contributions on why
vs. wye, w(h)oa, etc. (no one mentioned "who", another orthographic WH that I
think even in spelling pronunciations doesn't come out as "hwoo"), Barry
"The part, however, was a very tedious one, as the elephant was obliged
to be on the stage about an hour, and Ned was too fond of the bottle to
remain so long without "whetting his whistle," so he set his wits to wprk to
find a way to carry a weedrop with him."
Whether Barry's or his source's, the occurrence of "whet one's whistle" for
original "wet one's whistle" is a nice innovation. I've always assumed it
derives from a blend of "wet [moisten] one's whistle" and "whet [= sharpen]
one's appetite", but with a boost from the near or (depending on one's
dialect, as we've seen) complete phonological homophony of "wet" and "whet".