Irish recruits [Was: French Academy ...]

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 21 19:45:56 UTC 2008

On Sat, Jun 21, 2008 at 10:37 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> There is what might be called today an Irish joke:  John Dunton,
> describing his service in the militia while residing in Massachusetts
> in 1696, wrote that he was "as unacquainted with the Terms of
> Military Discipline, as a wild Irish Man", who would be given bread
> for one pocket and cheese for the other, and then be commanded to
> turn toward bread or cheese instead of left or right.
> John Dunton, The Life and Errors of John Dunton Late Citizen of
> London ... (London: Printed for S. Malthus, 1705), 155--156.

"Hay-foot, straw-foot!"

>From an article "Hayfoot, Strawfoot!" by Bruce Catton about Civil War
soldiers, American Heritage Magazine, April 1957, Volume 8, Issue 3

Similarly, the drill sergeants repeatedly found that among the raw
recruits there were men so abysmally untaught that they did not know
left from right, and hence could not step off on the left foot as all
soldiers should. To teach these lads how to march, the sergeants would
tie a wisp of hay to the left foot and a wisp of straw to the right;
then, setting the men to march, they would chant, "Hay-foot,
straw-foot, hay-foot, straw-foot"—and so on, until everybody had
caught on. A common name for a green recruit in those days was

On the drill field, when a squad was getting basic training, the men
were as likely as not to intone a little rhythmic chant as they
tramped across the sod—thus:

March! March.! March old soldier march!
Hayfoot, strawfoot,
Belly-full of bean soup—
March old soldier march!

OED, "hay-foot":

hay-foot, straw-foot: with right and left foot alternately (at the
word of command). Also as v.
  In allusion to the alleged use of hay and straw to enable a rustic
recruit to distinguish the right foot from the left.

First cite:
1851 Knickerbocker XXXVIII. 79 At company-training and was all 'hay-foot, straw-foot' with him.

Mark Mandel

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list