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The rebel yell

Really, all my carping about substandard prose has got to have a bad effect on you and me both. I should Make An Effort now and again to point out that there are Better Things. Picking up the late Guy Davenport’s The Geography of the Imagination, I find a gorgeous passage that I think you will also like:

“I cannot remember any mention whatever of history in grammar school. All we learned of the Civil War is that our principal, Miss May Russell, was taken from her bed and kissed as an infant by the notorious renegade Manse Jolly, who had, to Miss May’s great satisfaction, galloped his horse down the length of a banquet table at which Union officers were dining, collapsing it as he progressed, emptying two sixshooters into the Yankees and yodeling, ‘Root hog or die!’ This was the rebel yell that Douglas Southall Freeman gave for a recording and dropped dead at the end of. This grotesque fact would not have fazed Miss May Russell; what finer way would a gentleman wish to die? We all had to learn it: the root is pitched on a drunken high note in the flattest of whining cotton-planter’s pronunciation, the hawg is screamed in an awful way, and the aw dah is an hysterical crescendo recalling Herod’s soldiery at work on male infants. We loved squalling it, and were told to remember how the day was saved at Bull Run, when Beauregard and Johnson were in a sweat until the Sixth South Carolina Volunteers under Wade Hampton rode up on the left flank (they had assembled, in red shirts, around our own court house and marched away to Virginia to ‘The Palmyra Schottische’).”



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:17 AM | | Comments (6)


Lordie, I feel a tad faint.

Did someone recently send you some of that Kentucky elixir you prefer so much ? ;)

No, but it's not a donation I would turn down.

Beautiful passage, but it took me twice to get through it. Something about not having your morning coffee makes you a little slow in the morning...


Regarding the notorious "rebel yell", in doing a cursory Wiki snoop the other night, I uncovered an interesting theory re/ the etiology of this banshee-like howl adopted by the Confederate rebel troops during Civil War combat.

Some Civil War scholars have speculated that since the southeastern states, (Confederate states), situated mainly south of the Mason-Dixon Line (and perhaps even a few hundred miles north of said demarcation line), had an estimated 75%-plus of their original British immigrant populations coming largely from Celtic lineage, i.e., Scots/ irish stock, while those Brits who first settled in the original northeastern Thirteen Colonies of New England were primarily Anglo-Saxons (read English), then perhaps the "rebel yell' had ancient roots in the legendary ancestral Scottish tribal, or clan battle cries. (Kind of a DNA thing.)

That Caractacus dude could really belt it out, I gather. HA!

The Confederate "rebel yell", at its most blood-curdling peak, could allegedly stop enemy Union Fed troops literally in their very tracks, where they would drop their weaponry in fear, and hightail it in the opposite direction.

All this "rebel yell" discussion brings to mind the "Ladies from Hell" appellation ascribed to the kilted Scottish and Canadian/ Scots-Irish ground troops who fought courageously in World War I against Hitler's forces.

Some historians claim it was German Kaiser Wilhelm who actually coined "The Ladies from Hell" moniker, but other scholars feel it may have originated within the Allied ranks, as kind of a rousing morale booster.

I can just imagine the vision of a motley band of armed-and-lethal cross-dressing (kilted) Brit and Canuck soldiers, some playing the bagpipes, and others pounding the snare, advancing w/ due hast, howling blue murder, one immense tartan wave cresting the battlements, and traversing the muddy trench lines, could make enemy combatants tuck tail, and run for their lives.

@Picky, I've attached a couple of entertaining YouTube links, one an updated homage to The Ladies from Hell", dedicated to the British and Canadian Highland regiments currently (and in the past) serving, (or having served) in combat in Afghanistan.(Terrific bagpiping.);_ylu=X3oDMTFibm9ocDhuBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMTIEY29sbwNzazEEdnRpZANSQ0YwMDdfMjAxMTA2MDE-/SIG=120e495v5/EXP=1306409672/**http%3a//

The second link is the upbeat tune, "Donald Where's Your Trousers?" , sung w/ typical gusto by the famed Irish Rovers. I grew up w/ this little ditty, plus "The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre", (translated----The Washing of Geordie's Stable) and other Scottish mid-century music-hall type songs, a la the popular Scottish singer Harry Lauder, and his ilk.

When I was a wee gaffer, my dad collected any LP vinyl records of the day w/ a mere whiff of a Scottish theme. No wonder I turned out to be such a hopeless 'Scotitphile'. HA!

Ta! Ta!


The rest of Mr. Davenport's fine essay can be found here, and is equally worthwhile:

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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