play 'knick knack' 'paddy whack' [also: playing spoons/bones]

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  • LouisaB

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I can't help with 'play knick-knack', I'm afraid, but 'paddywhack' is a regrettably racist English expression dating from around the 17th century and means an Irishman - deriving from the Erse name 'Padraig', rendered in English originally as 'Patterick' and more recently as 'Patrick'. In context, 'paddywhack' nearly always means someone who's drunk, argumentative or looking for a fight. Hence, I suppose, 'this old man came rolling home'.

    But I'd love to know what 'play knick-knack' means. Can anyone help with that one?

    LouisaB
     
    I'm not sure but it could be something to do with playing the spoons, which is an old Irish tradition I think.


    I was thinking along those lines, Sally. Or "playing the bones".

    "Spoon players" hit various parts of their body whilst banging the two spoons together. This was once a popular entertainment in parts of London. If they didn't have spoons to play they would use two bits of hollow bones - such as cow's ribs.



    LRV
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    When I was a youngster "playing knick-knack" was ringing a doorbell (or striking a door-knocker) and running away before being caught by an irate householder.
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    maxiogee, I didn't know that you also have that custome of mischief! It may be universal.

    I'm curious to know how hitting one's body with a pair of spoons can be entertaining. Could anyone explain more how they have people laughing?
     

    . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    Two spoons are held loosely in one hand.
    The spoons are then struck against the body in various rhythms to play a tune. If done properly it can be quite entertaining. Depending on the body language and facial expressions of the player it can be hillarious.

    .,,
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    Tony, we used to call that knick knock.
    That's just your faulty pronunciation :D

    The spoons are just another form of folk music's home-made percussion instruments. They can, in the absence of a drum, carry a rhythm for a singer. Bones are also used.
     
    In London the game was called "knock down ginger".

    As .., says, watching someone playing the spoons can be hilariously funny. There was a pub I used to go to where a very ropey old piano was played by one of the locals, when he was "merry" enough. Lots of "bum notes" were played (Les Dawson style).

    Then a very thin, old man would stand by the piano, whip out his spoons and play them (with great skill). He banged them against his shoulders, head, elbow, ribs, knees and feet. Such was his concentration that his tongue would stick out of one side of his mouth while, at the same time, he would give a toothless grin and keep time with the rhythm by wagging his eyebrows up and down.

    He was always rewarded with several pints of beer from the appreciative crowd. :D

    God bless his dear old memory.:)




    LRV
     

    cirrus

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Lighten up folks! Are we not missing a trick here? For me and the vast majority of kids brought up singing this rhyme knick knack paddy whack is and remains just the meaningless doggerel of a children's counting rhyme. Certainly I can't remember it having any significance singing it as a kid or with any kids I sing it with at work. It gets over rhythm, playing with numbers, enjoying the sound of words and pronoucing them clearly. Toddlers and little ones love it.
     

    LouisaB

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Lighten up folks! Are we not missing a trick here? For me and the vast majority of kids brought up singing this rhyme knick knack paddy whack is and remains just the meaningless doggerel of a children's counting rhyme. Certainly I can't remember it having any significance singing it as a kid or with any kids I sing it with at work. It gets over rhythm, playing with numbers, enjoying the sound of words and pronoucing them clearly. Toddlers and little ones love it.
    Hi, Cirrus,

    I can't agree. Certainly it's a children's counting rhyme, and I doubt even one in a hundred knows its meaning - but that doesn't mean it hasn't got one! Most 'nursery rhymes' or little snatches of doggerel that have come down to us by the oral tradition meant something originally - often a reference to something highly political or topical at the time. I'm sure you know 'Ring-a-ring-a-roses', for instance, is all about the Plague.
    No-one's denying the purpose of the rhyme - we're just interested in what it actually meant at the time.
    Fair enough?

    LouisaB
     

    Sallyb36

    Senior Member
    British UK
    My friend aged 38 plays the spoons, her Irish grandfather taught her when she was a child. All the children in our families love to see her do it.
     

    loladamore

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I remember reading something somewhere it being something to do with sailors playing the bones (like the spoons) busking, but that's about all I can remember. Not very good, eh. I'll see what I can dig up.

    EDIT: Talking of bones and bits of cows, I have just found this. Any thoughts?

    << From the linked website, TheAnswerBank.
    Re: paffy wack . A paddywack is the large gristle than runs down the back of chuck.. A chuck is a braising steak that is sliced into portions to braise it is about eighteen inches to two feet long and is very tough it would take a dog a long time to consume this gristle. I dont know where the bit about give the dog a bone comes from , but that is what a paddywack is in butchery terms it is of no use to the butcher or the consumer. Regards boviner.
    Cagey, moderator. >>
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    << Off-topic comment deleted by moderator. >>


    I can't help with 'play knick-knack', I'm afraid, but 'paddywhack' is a regrettably racist English expression dating from around the 17th century and means an Irishman
    I would suggest that few, if any, English people use the word as a racist expression anymore.

    << Off-topic comment. >>
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    lablady

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    ... Talking of bones and bits of cows, I have just found this. Any thoughts?
    Returning to topic, and going on an archeological dig waaaaay back into the archives of my memory -

    I vaguely remember from some of the books I've read that at one time a knacker was called to dispose of livestock that was no longer of any use to the farmer/rancher. As the line in the rhyme refers to giving the dog a bone, could it be a reference to butchery as the link loladamore provided suggests? I learned the rhyme as "With a knick-knack..." (no reference to playing). Ignore that last statement. My brain just reminded me of the rest of the song that indeed refers to "playing knick-knack".

    As was also suggested earlier, some children's rhymes have unusual - maybe even grotesque - roots.
     

    loladamore

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I thought the original topic was well and truly in the knacker's yard!

    I have had a look round a few other forums, but there doesn't seem to be anything conclusive. The ideas are very similar to those presented here (without the archaeology) but no clear answers or sources.

    Keep looking!
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    While on the subject of the spoons and the bones, it seems pretty clear to me that the original percussion instrument consisted of two cow-ribs. It is possible to create a poor substitute by using spoons, or an excellent substitute by using hardwood of your choice. My personal choice, attested and approved by an Irish percussionist of my acquaintance, being Irish Cherrywood (orders for matched pairs are accepted if accompanied by a sufficiently large bribe).

    Observing the scene objectively, the English regard "playing the spoons" as a comedy act.

    The Irish esteem a good bones-player in the same category as a good bodhran-player, and often they are one and the same for the sense of rhythm is essential to both. Good bones-players get free drink.
     
    So did you all come up with a "valid" meaning for "paddy whack?" I am thinking of opening a Knick Knack store outside of Chicago, IL, USA and would like to use the words Paddy Whack in the name, but I know customers will ask what a Paddy Whack is. I'd like to have something more interesting than the neck tendon of a cow.

    Any suggestions?
     

    winklepicker

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    So did you all come up with a "valid" meaning for "paddy whack?" I am thinking of opening a Knick Knack store outside of Chicago, IL, USA and would like to use the words Paddy Whack in the name, but I know customers will ask what a Paddy Whack is. I'd like to have something more interesting than the neck tendon of a cow.

    Any suggestions?
    Paddy whack? I thought everybody knew that 'paddy-whack' means a small boat. It derives from the Celtic 'padh-y-weic', meaning 'keep your feet dry'.


    (No, actually, I just made that up - but your customers won't know, will they?)
     

    winklepicker

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    So did you all come up with a "valid" meaning for "paddy whack?" I am thinking of opening a Knick Knack store outside of Chicago, IL, USA and would like to use the words Paddy Whack in the name, but I know customers will ask what a Paddy Whack is. I'd like to have something more interesting than the neck tendon of a cow.

    Any suggestions?
    Having done a little more research, I find that 'paddy-whack' is another of those words the British brought back from India (like 'chutney' and 'bungalow'). It comes from the Hindustani dialect phrase 'padhi vikh', meaning 'a superb selection of high-quality gifts at affordable prices'.

    I thought that might help. :)
     

    Little John

    New Member
    English
    Consider this:
    the 'Knacker', a man called to look after dead horses, to flay and dispose of the carcass; additionally called when a horse had to be killed; of the lowest class of society, generally avoided as unclean. (see 'Culture Builders' Rutgers Press, 1987). Perhaps our children's song refers to an Irishman, a brawler, a 'paddywack', who is, by profession, a knacker, and by rhyme, knick, knacks a horse and gives the dog a bone from the carcass. The text continues into a fanciful absurdity by knacking many other objects...
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    << This entertaining and interesting thread is a souvenir of the forum's early days. :)

    Such meandering discussions are not suited to the forum as it is presently constituted, and I have locked it. If you wish to continue the discussion of any one of the several topics touched on here, please start a new thread. You can include a link to this thread, if it is relevant.

    Cagey, moderator >>
     
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