What’s the origin of the warning phrase down goes your shanty!? This bit of menacing slang pops up in letters written by Civil War soldiers. One wrote, “If I ever get a chance to draw sight on a rebel, down goes his shanty.” It has a similar meaning to a phrase heard in Oklahoma: down goes your meat house! This is part of a complete episode.

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  1. Andy Knapp says:

    A couple of things occurred to me regarding this reference while I listened to a podcast of this episode. First, the Civil War reference brought to mind the “body as a temple” concept found in the Bible, which a 19th C. soldier would have likely been familiar with. Thus, “if I get a chance to shoot a rebel, down goes the house of his soul.” This idea would also make sense for the more coarse “meat house,” as it could be taken to mean that a person’s soul resides in a “house made of meat.” I also, though, wonder if this could be somehow related to “chanties,” or sea-related work songs that would have also been fairly well known during the decades leading up to the Civil War… But I like the “house of your spirit” idea better.

  2. hilliarys says:

    What occurred to me when I listened to the phrase “down goes your shanty”, with out hearing any other suggestions, is that it means death. And I was thinking, if the Civil War soldiers wore Tam ‘o shanters, as many regiments have in various countries in the past, could the tam ‘o shanters have been nicknamed shanties? Then if you killed someone, their shanty, or hat, would definitley be going down as your body dropped to the ground.

  3. mcalter says:

    I’d never heard “down goes your shanty” before listening to this episode, but, as an alum of the University of Pennsylvania, I was struck by the similarity of the caller’s phrase to the second line of Penn’s traditional “battle cry” song, Hang Jeff Davis. The song goes:

    Hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree
    Down went McGinty to the bottom of the sea
    She’s my Annie, and I’m her Joe,
    Oh, listen to my tale of
    Any ice today lady?

    Jeff Davis is obvious, but there’s a lot of mystery around McGinty, and why he was being sent to the bottom of the sea. The shanty parallel doesn’t really solve that, but it’s interesting.

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