Deep Down in the Jungle redux

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun May 21 23:50:44 UTC 2006

On 5/21/06, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
> At 12:26 AM -0400 5/21/06, Wilson Gray wrote:
> >I believe Sister Sookie done lost her mind
> >She wears a pair of shoes of the strangest kind
> >With the heels in front and the heels behind
> >I couldn't tell _whether_ she was coming or gwine
> >
> A variant of that last couplet occurs in "Long John", recorded by
> those "musical miscreants" (so described on their remastered 1999 CD
> release) the Holy Modal Rounders in December 1963:
> Now Long John made him
> A pair of shoes
> They were the funniest shoes
> That you ever could see.
> They had a heel in front
> And a heel behind,
> You could never tell where
> Long John was gwine

>From _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_ by Harold Courlander
(1976, 1996), pp. 407-8:


One of the classic prison camp work songs, "Lost John," tells of an
escaped prisoner who outwitted his pursuers by placing an extra heel
on the front of each shoe. When his footprints were discovered, it was
impossible to tell the direction of his flight. (As sung by a work
gang, each line delivered by the singing leader was repeated by the

One day, one day
I were walking along
And I heard a little voice
Didn't see no one
It was old Lost John,
He said he was long gone
Like a turkey through the corn
With his long clothes on.
Had a heel in front
And a heel behind
Well you couldn't hardly tell
Well you couldn't hardly tell
Whichaway he was goin'.
Whichaway he was goin'.
One day, one dya,
Well I heard him say
Be on my way
Be on my way
'Fore the break of day
By the break of day,
Got a heel in front,
Got a heel behind,
Well you can't hardly tell
Well you can't hardly tell
Whichaway I'm goin'.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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