The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #75102   Message #1315773
Posted By: YorkshireYankee
03-Nov-04 - 07:00 PM
Thread Name: Wee pen knife
Subject: RE: Wee pen knife
Hi Dave,

The song in question can be found here; (seems to be called "Babylon", although that's not the title I remember – but it's not a song I sing myself, so I can't speak with any authority on that).

The verse(s) in question:

He's ta'en the first sister by her hand,
And he's turned her round and made her stand.

It's whether will ye be a rank robber's wife,
Or will ye die by my wee pen knife?

I'll not be a rank robber's wife,
but I'll rather die by your wee pen knife.

He's killed this may and he's laid her by,
for to bear the red rose company.


In this particular case, it makes more sense to me that he had a knife a bit larger than a "wee pen knife", which – to me at least – doesn't sound all that threatening. Yes, you can argue that if he's big & strong and she's just a small, weak woman, he should be able to threaten & kill her with even a small knife, but if he's a "rank robber", surely he must be equipped with better weaponry than a "wee pen knife". It just sort of "clicks' in to place & seems more reasonable to me than it does if we're talking about a fairly smallish knife.

That said, I'm not maintaining that this Mondegreen-of-sorts applies to every trad song that mentions a "wee pen knife"; I was just sharing a bit of a discussion I considered absolutely fascinating – and which illustrated one of the points I was trying to make.