Irish recruits [Was: French Academy ...]

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Jun 21 23:03:04 UTC 2008

Thanks, Mark -- I had forgotten "hay-foot,
straw-foot".  But what did they do with untaught
raw city recruits, who might not know hay from straw?

(And what happened to the undecipherable parts of
your message?  I can't imagine that the "turn
toward bread or cheese instead of" gave trouble.)


At 6/21/2008 03:45 PM, Mark Mandel wrote:
>base64Content-Disposition: inlineOn 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
>Z[]ary Discipline, as a wild Irish Man", who would be given bread
> > for one pocket and cheese for the other, and then be commanded to
>\›ˆÝØ\™œ™XY܈ÚY\ÙH[œÝXYÙ€ 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

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