Adam Catched Eve
DESCRIPTION: "Adam catched Eve by the fur below (x2), And that's the oldest catch I know (x3), Oh ho! did he so, did he so, did he so, did he so, did he so, did he so?"
EARLIEST DATE: 1926 (Scott)
KEYWORDS: nonballad bawdy wordplay
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Scott-EnglishSongBook, pp. 22-23, "Adam Catched Eve" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Reginald Nettel, _Seven Centuries of Popular Song_, Phoenix House, 1956, p. 76, "(no title)" (1 text)
NOTES [366 words]: This is a (probably composed) "catch," and has not been found in tradition that I know of, but it has been recorded by several "folk" performers, so I decided to include it. I haven't had any luck finding a serious Earliest Date. It is not in the Digital Index of Middle English Verse, so it is not attested until after the Middle English period.
Reginald Nettel, Seven Centuries of Popular Song, Phoenix House, 1956, pp. 76-77, points out that the word "catch" is used in a complex way: When Adam "catched" Eve, does this mean that he "caught" her or "sang a catch" to her? The latter would make it the oldest catch (an endless canon or round) that could exist. So even though there are only two lines here, they contain at least two and perhaps three instances of wordplay.
The other two double meanings in the text both involve print. The printed texts read the first line as "Adam catched Eve by the furbelow" instead of "...fur below." This is a double meaning, but it's also a sort of indirect bowdlerization. Yes, "furbelow" is a legitimate name for a garment (I've seen it glossed as a petticoat, but how do you make a petticoat out of fig leaves? There seems to be some uncertainty about just what was meant). However, "furbelow" is has always been a rare word -- e.g. it's not used in Chaucer, or in the romances of Havelock, Athelston, King Horn, or Gamelyn. I don't find it in "Piers Plowman," or in the glossaries of Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins. So while a scribe, or indeed the author, might have written "furbelow" to make a pun or to keep out of trouble, he expected hearers to understand it as "fur below." I suppose some ancient minstrel could have put together some comic routine about "furbelow" versus "fur below," but he'd have to be very careful who was in the audience.
The other ambiguity is in the line "And that's the oldest catch I know." If we put a comma after "catch," the meaning becomes, "And I know that is the oldest catch there ever was"; if we omit the comma, the sense is, "Of all the catches I know, this is the oldest." This difference also disappears when the piece is sung, but it makes less difference how the audience understands it. - RBW
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