The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4571   Message #3885419
Posted By: Jim Dixon
29-Oct-17 - 09:20 AM
Thread Name: Origins: The Big Rock Candy Mountain(s)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Big Rock Candy Mountain (from Burl Ives)
In my transcription above of Harry McClintock's recording of THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN, I wrote:

"Where they hung the jerk that invented work"

And indeed that's what I thought it was, and that's the way I think I've heard it sung by others, but on listening carefully to his recording again, I am now convinced that he actually sings:

"Where they hung the Turk that invented work."

I found several quotes or transcriptions in books that report it the same way ("Turk"), the oldest going back to 1941, whereas the quotes containing "jerk", although more numerous, only go back to 1968.

I'm not sure what happened here. Did we all start hearing (and preferring) "jerk" after "jerk" became a trendy slang word for "a contemptibly obnoxious person"? Was the word "jerk" with that meaning even in circulation in 1928? Or was "jerk" in circulation but considered too risqué for use in the media? (I understand it derives from "jerk-off", which was once a powerfully offensive term of abuse.) Did McClintock consciously substitute "Turk" for "jerk" (to keep the rhyme, as well as respectability) when he recorded the song? Were we meant to hear "Turk" but understand "jerk"?