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derry down, down derry

A discussion of word histories and origins.

derry down, down derry

Postby eberntson » Tue Aug 26, 2008 1:22 pm

So after looking at the Good Word: Fie! I was wondering what "derry", and "derry down" might mean? So first, I read that derry & derry down are just refrains from old songs. Right!? Although scat singing is cool, I don't think that was an accurate definition.

After poking around it seems that "derry" is Gaelic for oak-grove! Thus "derry" means oak-grove, as in Derrydonnell, Derrybeg, Derrydown, Merrydown, Heydown, Hoedown, Derry Derry down....

So then "down" in this context could mean a coup things, such as "the lower portion" or to "lower". This o would make sense in a dance context where people might dance to the songs, similar to a dance caller giving instructions. Calling "derry down" might mean that the folks should form an arch with their hands, like an oak grove arch, and that a couple should "move on down" through the arch.

I have done some English/American folk dancing and there is a lot of couples in rows changing places down the center of two rows of people. Also some dropping of the arches to capture couples.

So some of this is conjecture but I think it is plausible. I wanted to submit "derry" or "derry down" as the Good Word but there just ain't no call for oak-grov'ng in modern life. (sigh!) :( You can see how disappointed I would be, see avatar. :cry:

P.S. "Down" can also mean ; to prune & to polish. Who knew! So derry down, down derry" could mean in a whimsical way "oak grove pruning, prune the oak grove". Adds more validity to the dance arch dropping down doesn't it? :wink:
EBERNTSON
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Postby sluggo » Fri Nov 21, 2008 10:13 am

What a great question as point of departure :D

Your derivation of oak is OK in this book:

Derry (doire) is an oak grove and this placename is used on its own or in combination with other words in many places in Ireland. For example Derrydrummuck townland in the Aghaderg Parish of County Down comes from Doire Droma Muc or 'the oakwood of the ridge of the pigs'.


Of course Derry and Down also exist as counties in Ulster. That site don't really get down with Down as a name, though they're all over the map with place names in said county.

Now on to the dance... your get-down-and-derry derivations are fascinating, e. A good source for sleuth.

Quoth another source:
Etymologists have traced this phrase back to Norman England, to the Danish days, and even to the Saxon epoch, only to have it elude them at last. It is considered probable that the words are of Druidic origin.
(--Shakespeare in Music -Louis Charles Elson)

Elson herein appends a meaning of "burden" to derry down.

I'm kinda more interested in the Hey or Hay.

This folkdance site notes three claims of varying dubidity, claiming a hay (noun, as a dance figure) is "often known as a reel in Britain" (although this does not square with what I know from music).
More:
Spelled variously, hay, haye, and hey, this is a very old country dance, usually a round one, and Dr. Johnson, in his dictionary, suggests that it may have been so called because it was originally danced round a haycock. In Love's Labour's Lost, Dull, the constable says, "I will play on the tabor to the Worthies and let them dance the Hay."
-and-
Arbeau describes the hay exactly as it is still done in English country dancing today, as well as elsewhere in Europe. ... The term may be pictorially derived from "la haye," a French for an artificial hedge, "formed of upright wooden stakes interlaced with transverse strands consisting of thin supple stems"

Ah, there is nothing like playing on the tabor to the Worthies. Only in English.

But my knowledge of the antic hey comes via Barbara Walker:

Dance step of the medieval Carnival king; antico from Latin antiquus... Carnival "antics" were connected with the Old Religions whose sacred processions were often accompanied by clowns deliberately making obscene gestures and jokes to heighten the spirit of revelry. The hey was and is a figure-eight pattern paced on the ground, the sign meaning 'infinity' in Hindu-Arabic numeral systems and their descendant, modern mathematics. (Womens' Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets)

Apparently next time we hear someone say "hey" we must ask them to be more specific.

What of Hoedown?
One strange-looking site to which I've lost the URL claims:
Hoedown Style

This is American by derivation. Back in the days of the mid-west dirt farmers who toiled with their horse and plough in the 1800s - the farmers, at the end of the day, would literally put their hoe's (sic) down and throw a dance with whatever instruments they had to hand - hence the name Hoedown.


"Hey" and even "ho down" (the plot thickens) may be seen in this song transcription, along with another interesting twist, the insertion of the similarly seemingly meaningless "to my". Usually rendered as "to me" on the offbeat just before the "one" beat of a chorus, "to me" gets used very commonly in the rhythmic work song of sea chanteys, where the lead singer signals that on the next beat the action (say, hoisting a sail) goes towards him.
Last edited by sluggo on Fri Nov 21, 2008 5:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby eberntson » Fri Nov 21, 2008 2:25 pm

@Sluggo: Thank you that is wonderful write up. I enjoy the divergence of the whole post. :lol:
EBERNTSON
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Postby sluggo » Fri Nov 21, 2008 5:17 pm

Hay, sure. Special interest of mine.

Here's the errant site I lost before with the homegrown hoedown etymology. A British dance band. I'm amused how they beckon "give us a call on (number)". Never noticed that before.
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