"get your habits on" (1899, 1924, etc.)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Thu Aug 25 09:07:32 UTC 2005

On Wed, 24 Aug 2005 14:06:54 -0400, Wilson Gray wrote:

>What about "get one's habits on" from at least the '50's? That's the
>oldest documentable example of this form that I know of. I would pin
>it down, but I managed to blow up my unbacked-up hard drive and I
>haven't had time to restock my data base. In any case, it occurs in
>the R&B song, "I Don't Know," by Willie Mabon.

Here's some earlier evidence. The African American Sheet Music collection
at the Library of Congress has a song dated c1899 with the title "Got Your
Habits On":

Got your habits on / arr. by Wm. H. Tyers ; words and music by John Queen.
Sung by: John Queen and Lew Dockstader.
Originally published: New York : Feist & Frankenthaler, c1899.

The lyrics can be read on the page images-- it's typical minstrel fare
(Dockstader is pictured in blackface on the cover), with a chorus that
goes, "Dey git der habits on, Got your habits on."

Michael Taft's concordance of pre-war blues lyrics also has a number of
cites for "get one's habits on", beginning in 1924:


Oh good-looking papa : where have you been so long
Oh dough-spreading papa : you got your habits on
Smith, Clara; Good Looking Papa Blues; New York, 29 Jan. 1924; (81508-1)
Co-14026-D VJM VLP-16

Mmm : bring me another two-bit pint
Because I got my habits on : I'm going to wreck this joint
Bogan, Lucille; Sloppy Drunk Blues; Chicago, late Mar. 1930; (C-5562-A)
Br-7210 Rt RL-317

Mmm : bring me another two-bit pint
Because I got my habits on : and I'm going to wreck this joint
Carr, Leroy; Sloppy Drunk Blues; Chicago, 19 Sept. 1930; (C-6086-B)
Vo-1541 Yz L-1015

Daddy you really knows your stuff : when you take me for a buggy ride
I like you when you got your habits on : you can shift a gear with so much
Smith, Bessie; Take Me for a Buggy Ride; New York, 24 Nov. 1933;
(152579-2) OK-8949 Co CL-856

Stop awhile : shimmy if it's all night long
??? things : is got your habits on
Lofton, Cripple Clarence; I Don't Know; probably Chicago, c. 1936 -1938; (
  ) private record Yz L-1025

--Ben Zimmer

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