Windows 8 and 8.1 Forums

Today's Grammar Lesson

  1. #1

    Posts : 308
    64-bit Windows 8

    Today's Grammar Lesson

    This is one of those "ultra-trivial" trivia questions that are of zero importance in the scheme of (musical) things, so don't spend more than five minutes trying to find the answer -- it isn't worth it!

    The song in question is "Tell 'Em I'm Surfin'" by the Fantastic Baggys (and there was also a version by Jan and Dean, which sounds almost identical).

    Here's the link to it on YouTube in case you want to hear it:

    But this question has to do only with the lyrics. It's one of those complex-harmony songs with different parts being sung simultaneously, so it's hard to get all the words down. But essentially the words are approximately as follows:

    Hey mom if any of the guys from my baseball team ever call me on the phone
    To ask me to play in an important game, just say their captain ain't at home
    Tell 'em I'm surfin'
    Don't care about hittin' home runs now, wanna have me some fun fun fun now
    I'm tradin' in my bat and ball, say I'll see 'em in the fall, I'm goin' surfin'
    And if that pretty little girl from across the street who's been botherin' me for days
    To go swimmin' in her pool, well her pool's real cool, but it hasn't got ten-foot waves
    Tell her I'm surfin'
    She's a mighty mighty cute girl now, but I'd rather be shootin' the curl now
    If she wants my company, I'll be out at Windansea, I'm goin' surfin'
    Last year I had a summer job, and all day long I had to run around
    But now I can afford a new surfboard, and all summer long I'm gonna bum around
    So just pack me a lunch and I'll be on my way, oh yeah there's one more thing to do
    If the mailman comes with a letter for me, just forward it to Malibu
    Where I'll be surfin'
    Just drop it in my 30-foot Ford now, I'll be a while at waxin' my board now
    I won't be home for days, I'll be ridin' the waves, I'm goin' surfin'
    I'm goin' surfin'
    Gonna throw my books away now, and surf 24 hours a day now
    I won't be home for days, I'll be ridin' the waves, I'm goin' surfin'

    When I first heard it in 1964, I immediately noticed something in these lyrics that is extremely rare in songs; something, in fact, that I've never encountered in any other song, rock or otherwise.

    The deliberate use of incorrect English grammar (or, to put it more gently, "nonstandard" grammar) -- like double negatives and so on -- has always been very common in pop, folk, blues, and rock songwriting. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine rock'n'roll without it. For example, "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog" (Elvis Presley's early hit) sounded great as a song, but might sound bad in a book, speech, or article. "You Aren't Anything But a Hound Dog" might be better for public speaking or writing, but would make a lousy song.

    But "Tell 'Em I'm Surfin'" contains an ACTUAL mistake. It's the kind of barely noticeable mistake that anyone might make in casual speaking; but it's a very definite violation of English grammar -- a totally impossible sentence structure. And it's a mistake that I'm sure nobody would ever put into a song on purpose.

    I'm not in any way ridiculing the composer, P.F. Sloan, who wrote some of the best songs of the 60's. But anyone can make a mistake of this kind, so it's no big deal anyway.

    Don't delay -- this contest will only be open for 25 years, and after that it's too late! Send in your answers, and don't forget to include the $50.00 processing fee. Visa and MasterCard accepted.

      My System SpecsSystem Spec

  2. #2

    Posts : 308
    64-bit Windows 8

    What, nobody's found it yet? I'm very disappointed. I'm reducing the prize to only one million dollars, instead of three million. That'll teach you!

    But, hey, my question itself isn't a joke. The song really does contain a huge error in grammar.

    The error is in these lines:

    1. And if that pretty little girl
    2. From across the street
    3. Who's been botherin' me for days
    4. To go swimmin' in her pool
    5. Well her pool's real cool
    6. But it hasn't got ten-foot waves
    7. Tell her I'm surfin'.

    No, the insertion of the two separate clauses (lines 5 and 6) in the middle of the sentence isn't a mistake; it's done all the time in songs. But, regardless of that, there's something ELSE here that makes it impossible to make any grammatical sense out of this 7-line passage. Its MEANING is perfectly clear, of course; but you can't interpret it grammatically as a sentence, or as two sentences, or as anything else. Doesn't anybody see why?

    This is the kind of mistake that gets flagged by school teachers if you do it in a paper that you write. At first glance it looks like normal English; but if you apply some method of "parsing" or "diagramming" to the passage, the error becomes obvious.
      My System SpecsSystem Spec

  3. #3

    I'm more concerned about the use of "ain't", word doesn't exist in proper english. Also, I believe "30-foot Ford" is actually " '34 Ford", perhaps you didn't hear the lyrics clearly......
      My System SpecsSystem Spec

  4. #4

    Posts : 308
    64-bit Windows 8

    Thanks. A '34 Ford at that time would have been a 30-year-old car, and that would be an amusing thing to mention in a song.

    But, in regard to grammar, things like "ain't" and double negatives and so on have been used in thousands of songs; the songwriters know how to write good English, but are putting in these things deliberately, just as in books and movies and so on. It's very rare for a songwriter to make an actual mistake, but that's what I think happened in this song.
      My System SpecsSystem Spec

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