Hey Lawdy Mama

One of our combo songs is a blues by Cleve Reed, ‘Hey Lawdy Mama’ *. When I first sang it, some of the players asked me why I pronounced it [lo:di] instead of [leidi] and I told them (I hope I was right!) that it’s an equivalent of ‘lord’ or ‘my God’ and has nothing to do with ‘lady’. Can anyone please confirm I didn’t put my foot in it and whether it’s still in use?

The reason I’m unsure is that I dont think I’ve ever heard the terms ‘lawdy’ or ‘mama’ as interjections other than in American songs, films or cartoons (what I mostly heard in England along those lines was ‘Good Lord’ or ‘Jesus(christ)’, ‘Christ’ or ‘my goodness’): ‘Oh, mama’ is one of cartoon character Johnny Bravo’s favourite phrases. Strangely, its literal equivalent is also and very frequently used in Spanish and Italian (?madre m?a!/mamma mia!). In the south of France (at least in (Marseille) OK, I’ll put it differently: Mar + seille – isn’t it hilarious?) they say ‘ah, la bonne m?re’ (though I think this refers to the Virgin Mary rather than to your own mother). In Arabic you can hear ‘ya bayyeh’ (oh, my father), also used as an exclamation of dismay or surprise. What do you normally say, everyone?

  • The first verse of the song goes: “Now the man I love’s got a mouthful of gold, Hey Lawdy Mama, little pretty Mama, … Everytime he kiss me makes my blood go cold”. The image I used to get when first singing it was that of a man with a mouthful of gold-capped teeth :slight_smile: , but I guess it has more to do with his way of kissing. Do any of you use this expression and what do you think it really means? Thanks.

“Lawdy” is how we spell the way “lordy” is pronounced in African-American dialect. The letters “aw” indicate the mid back lax vowel that in IPA is indictated by a backwards C. So, it’s the same vowel as in “caught” and “taught” in General American. [lo:di] is not accurate, and [leidi] is completely the wrong word. “Lawdy” and “lordy” are references to God or Jesus, not to a woman. The “mama” just gets added there somehow as a second exclamation. Way back in the past it could have been a reference to Jesus and Mary, but I think the origins of that pair of words together are lost far back in the unrecorded past.

A lot of expressions are used in American songs and movies that people don’t actually say in real life. It’s VERY rare to hear an American call his girlfriend “baby” – or hear her call her boyfriend “baby” – unless they are joking or being sarcastic. It would be distinctly weird for an American to call his girlfriend “mama”. You hear that in songs, but any girl whose boyfriend called her “Mama” would immediately decide the relationship might be a bit sick, and run away – fast! Sometimes when we use these expressions, we are directly making fun of the language and mentality found in popular music or movies.

That’s because Johnny Bravo is a satire of men who self-consciously try too hard to be cool. That’s why a lot of his expressions are similar to those in pop music. Normal people would not say them.

By the way, have you noticed that Johnny Bravo often calls women “mamacita”?

In countries with a Catholic background it’s not too unusual for various interjections of that sort to be based on expressions for the Virgin Mary, for Jesus, for God or for some saint. One reason the word “blood-y” is vulgar in Britain and not in the US is that it’s a contraction of “By Our Lady”. Somehow that connection has been lost in America, and to us it just refers to blood. (Sorry about the way I spelled it, but the message board software won’t accept it if I spell it correctly.)

One difference between curses and exclamations in continental European languages and American English is that the Europeans invoke religious figures, and Americans talk about bodily functions.

Back to the mother thing, though, I once saw a historical linguistics presentation where a scholar demonstrated that in most Southeast Asian languages the word for “big” is derived from an old word for “mother”.

I’ll try to pronounce it the American way, then [lodi], to make it sound more authentic! I find myself doing this often when singing, anyway (even many British do), though I wouldn’t for Celtic songs!

:frowning: I’d rather not have known about this! And to think that all these years this ghost word has been in so many of my fantasies…

My, what I don’t learn here! I had absolutely no idea and I’ve often wondered why the word was considered vulgar.

There are (unfortunately!) enough bodily function (and what follows!) exclamations in Europe too, I can assure you!!

How about ‘(oh) my God!’? Don’t tell me it’s not used in the States other than in films (most profusely, I’d say). By the way, Irish Catholics say ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’ and we have the same expression in Spanish. I think (if I remember correctly) that the French Canadians use a similar phrase, at least in Montreal – just in passing, I find their accent so cute!).

No, we do say this, and people also use the names of Jesus and of God to curse sometimes, but you can’t use words like “crucifix” or “sacrament” to swear, the way you can on the European continent. Germans can swear by exclaiming, “Heaven, cross and sacrament!” To American ears this wouldn’t sound like cursing. Maybe it would sound like praying here.

One thing we do, however, is add the word “holy” before some other word. It can be a curse word, but more often we say things like, “Holy cow!” “Holy cats!” or if you enjoy Italian desserts, you can join the many Americans who exclaim, “Holy canole!” These are not curses, but just loud expressions of surprise or amazement.

The Czechs also say that sometimes, but it’s been shortened to just “Jezismaria!” “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” does not sound like cursing to most Americans, and many Catholics children are taught to say this as a short prayer while they’re on the go.

You may like the way my mother used to express disgusted surprise: “Jumpin’ Judas!” It’s relatively common.