The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #140533   Message #3230552
Posted By: Lighter
28-Sep-11 - 09:50 AM
Thread Name: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
Subject: RE: New evidence for 'shanty' origins?
Interesting find, Gibb, but, as you suggest, it's all very ambiguous.

A "shanty song," to an audience that had never heard of a "sea chantey," could only have meant a song somehow associated with a wooden shanty. In this case, a song sung by lumbermen on the way to their shanty.

On the other hand, it's hard to know what O'Grady expected his readers to understand by "shanting boys." There's no "shanting" in the OED. If he'd meant "shantying," surely he'd have included the "y"; what's more, in 1841, he'd have every reason to spell it with a "c," under the influence of French "chanter."

My guess is that O'Grady has coined a new "poetic" verb, to "shant," to correspond to the noun "shanty." It would thus mean "to stay in a shanty."

That interpretation has the virtue at least of coming from within the poem itself. That's simpler than assuming instead that it's a not-very-clear reference to a word that we don't know to have existed and that readers would certainly have been unfamiliar with.

I think too that if O'Grady had meant "shantying," he would have used that word, presumably in quotation marks and italics as an unfamiliar borrowing from the vernacular. That kind of borrowing, moreover, was frowned upon in the Romantic era as a unfortunate corruption of poetic language. It would be even more remarkable, then, if O'Grady had both used the word, unmarked, and placed it so prominently. Those objections would not apply to a new "poetic" term like "shant."

Any direct connection between "shanty songs" and "sea shanties" seems most implausible. We don't even know that lumbermen often called their songs "shanty songs" anyway. Until collectors told them that they had a special repertoire, the singers themselves probably just thought of the songs as "songs."