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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers

Written by Azizi Powell

Although I'm African American, because I was a goody two shoes church girl and also a book worm, I wasn't very street smart. One sign that I wasn't street smart was that I never learned how to play the African American insult exchange game called "the dozens". Somehow or another-probably from books tv, or movies-I did know about the dozens and it's standard "Yo[ur] Mama" beginning phrase and come back. But I don't recall ever see anyone play that insult game. And it wasn't until I was in my 40s that I first learned about the pre-dozens rhyme "Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers"-'drawers' in this context meaning 'panties (female underwear).

I thought that the first time I read an example of "Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" was a discussion thread of "Childhood Games & Rhymes" from the 1980s on an internet forum for members of various Black Greek lettered sororites. One of those women with the tag name Optimistic1 added this example to the mix:
"Yo mama don't wear no drawers. I saw her when she took em off. She threw them in the air...Superman said "I declare!" (We had a whole lot of sayings that came after the second line like...She threw them on the track and the train jumped 50 miles back)"
-Optimistic1, http://www.greekchat.com/gcforums/showthread.php?t=4123&page, Illinois, 2000

The words to that rhyme sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't remember where I had first heard them. Eventually, it came to me that that rhyme was preserved in the 1938 short story "Big Boy Leaves Home" that is part of the Uncle Tom's Children collection of short stories by the African American writer Richard Wright. In that story, "Your Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" is described as "an old song", and the boys are said to be "cracking" meaning "making up insults". Depending on what state you live in "crackin(g)is also known as "dissin", "rippin" (on) or "snapin". Here's an excerpt of that story as sung by Big Boy and three other boys:
"The ol song goes something like this:

Yo mama don wear no drawers,
Ah seena when she pulled em off,
N she washed em in alcohol,
N she hung em out in the hall,
N then she put em back on her QUALL!"
- http://www.nbu.bg/webs/amb/american/5/wright/bigboy.htm

"Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawer" is traditionally performed in a call & response manner. During her or his "solo", each person is supposed to come up with a different two lined verse that completes the first two set lines of the song. When performed that way, "Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" is a prime example of what I call "pre-dozens" rhymes, meaning that this insult rhyme that goes further than set verses taunting rhymes in "training" children how to do the dozens. For more information on the dozens/pre-dozens, read my comments below.

Check out this YouTube video of that rhyme:

Yo Momma Dont Wear No Socks



-Brittney Weaver, Published on December 08, 2007

a sing along we use to sing back n da day so we thought we would make a video out of it. me and my lil sistas
-snip-
Here's my transcription of that video:

YO MAMA DON'T WEAR NO SOCKS
Chorus:

Ah ding dong dong dong dong
Ah ding dong dong dong dong

Yo mama don't wear no draws (ah ding dong)
I saw her when she took them off (ah ding dong)
She threw them in the tree (ah ding dong)
And the dog refused to pee.

Chorus

Yo mama don't wear no socks (ah ding dong)
I saw her when she took them off (ah ding dong)
She threw them in the sky (ah ding dong)
And Superman refused to fly

Chorus

Yo mama don't wear no socks (ah ding dong)
I saw her when she took them off (ah ding dong)
She put them in ah nest (ah ding dong)
And the birds refused to rest.

Ah ding dong dong dong dong
Ah ding dong dong dong dong
Rest in pea-eece
Ah ding dong dong dong dong
Ah ding dong dong dong dong

Yo mama don't wear no socks (ah ding dong)
I saw her when she took them off (ah ding dong)
She threw them on the wall (ah ding dong)
And the roaches refused to crawl.

Chorus

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Here's a great explanation about "Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" from a July 15, 2008 post by Kymberli on a site that seems to be no longer accessible:
"Oh, but the best of all, I mean the absolute best and the one that we still play today is Yo' Mama Don't Wear No Drawers.

Now, before I say another word, let's get one thing straight. You have to put a ghetto lilt on the word "drawers." In this song, it's pronounced draaaws. Got it? Good. Now, the game is a song and the challenge is to take turns adding improv additional verses. It's an elimination game; you're out when you can't figure out a verse before your time is up. The first few verses are always the same, and after those have been sung, the improv verses begin."

****
Since at least the 1990s, White Americans (and other races) campers have been introduced to a sanitized version of "Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" which is titled "Your Mama Don't Wear No Socks". And those "poor" campers probably don't know that they are learning a pale imitation of a naughty, creative, pre-dozens insult exchange rhyme. Incidentally, "drawers" mean "panties"/"underwear".

"Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" is also chanted as a military cadence (jodie) and an adult drinking song. It therefore may be posted to websites that may not be suitable for children.

Here's one more example of this song from this page of my Cocojams website: http://www.cocojams.com/content/schoolyard-taunts (The number given here is different from the version's number that is assigned on that web page.)

YO MAMA DON'T WEAR NO DRAWERS (Version #2)
Here is an insult rhyme my sister, cousins, and I used to get into a lot of trouble repeating...but it was so much fun to say them and make up new lines. Birmingham, AL, 1980s and early 90s Yo mama don't wear no draws (ba ba boom is said at the end of every line while you stomp)

[Editor: I reformatted this example adding "ba ba boom" after each verse]

Yo mama don't wear no draws
ba ba boom
i saw when she took them off
ba ba boom
she put em in the washing machine
ba ba boom
ajax couldn't get em clean
ba ba boom
she put em on top of the house
ba ba boom
they scared away mighty mouse
ba ba boom
she put em up under the bed
ba ba boom
you shoulda heard what the roaches said
ba ba boom
she put up on top of the tracks
ba ba boom
that train went 50 miles back
ba ba boom
she put em in the middle of the street
ba ba boom
those cars went beep beep beep
ba ba boom

that's all that i can remember...but the taunt could go on forever. we would add to it every time someone thought of something new. but man, our parents hated us singing this around the house.
-Joi; 3/23/2008

****
For more text examples and videos of the child's versions of this rhyme, visit that Cocojams page.

I'll leave you with one last video of this rhyme, the words of which are found on Cocojams:

Yo Mama don't wear no drawers..... A ding dong



Mitch Aschinger, July 31, 2008
My son (USMC BRAT) singing a jodi about Yo Mama

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EDITORIAL COMMENT [1/13/2013]
I consider "Yo [Your] Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" to be a pre-dozens song. By "pre-dozens" I mean rhyming cheers or song that help young people gain the word/rhyming skills and confidence to compete in real dozens insult exchanges.

Here's information about the dozens' from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dozens for information about the dozens:

"The Dozens is a game of spoken words between two contestants, common in African-American communities, where participants insult each other until one gives up or violence erupts. It is customary for the Dozens to be played in front of an audience of bystanders, who encourage the participants to reply with more egregious insults to heighten the tension and consequently, to be more interesting to watch. Among African-Americans it is also known as "sounding", "joning", "woofing", "wolfing", "sigging", or "signifying",[1][2] while the insults themselves are known as "snaps".

The popular bragging or insulting cheer "Shabooya Roll Call" can also be considered "pre-dozens", particularly when the soloists' verses taunt or insult another person. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/01/right-rhyming-pattern-for-shabooya-roll.html for a pancocojams blog post about that cheer.

****
Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

4 comments:

  1. For what it's worth, I just came across a earlier referent to "your __ don't wear no drawers" than the song fragment that's included in the Richard Wright 1938 story which is mentioned in this post.

    Here's that note from a Mudcat discussion thread about the word "dony"/"donie" (meaning "sweetheart") that is found in some early Blues songs:

    "f 1908 in DN III 306: Dony n. Girl, sweetheart…."My Dony don' wear no drawers," - a line from a popular negro song."

    posted by GUEST,.gargoyle
    Date: 26 May 09 - 04:40 PM http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=54922

    I've not been able to identify the name of that "popular negro song."

    Does anyone have any information about which song that notation was referring to? I wonder if it was the real original source for that "Yo Mama Don't Wear No Drawers" song.

    *For the record, nowadays, the "n" in the referent "Negro" is always capitolized unless it is purposely used as a put down for a Black person who acts against the best interests of other Black people.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I found the citation for that 1908 note as
    Lighter, J.E., Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang Vol I, A-G, (The Only Historical Dictionary of Slang, Spanning Three Hundred Years of Slang Use in America), Random House, New York, 1994, p 628.

    from http://blindman.fr.yuku.com/topic/46354/Dony

    I think "f 1908" means "since (from) 1908".

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's late, I'm a music teacher, and tomorrow is the 1st day of school. I've been reading and jumping & reading & jumping from link to link here and I have to say, THIS IS A WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL RESOURCE!!! So many music teachers will teach a song/activity without knowing any of the history . . . or hypothesized history even of what they're teaching! The only problem is IS THAT IT SEEMS THAT ONE OF THE MAJOR BLOG-SITES you have links to IS ADVERTISING THAT IT'S UP FOR SALE!!! This makes me so upset! Is there a new address for that blog spot?
    Anyhow, thank you for your time, intellect, and efforts into your research and sharing it. I look forward to continue learning a great deal from your links: don't stop them!
    Sincerely,
    Ms. Merzy Dotes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greetings, Merzy Dotes.

      (By the way, that's a great name for a music teacher!)

      Thanks for your compliment. I really appreciate it.

      When you mentioned that one of pancocojams' the major resources is up for sale, you are probably referring to my now defunct website "cocojams".

      I voluntarily closed that website near the end of 2014 for various reasons.

      Most of the children's rhymes material that were on that site were then transferred to my cocojams2 blog http://cocojams2.blogspot.com/. That blog includes some other children's rhymes, game songs, and cheers material - as does pancocojams.

      In fact, a lot of cocojams.com material had been added to pancocojams prior to my making the decision to close cocojams.com. I then published additional cocojams material on this pancocojams blog, often adding YouTube videos or sound files to the entries.

      At the same time that I closed down cocojams.com I also closed down my other cultural website "Jambalayah". That website was very much a precursor to "pancocojams" as it showcased multiple YouTube videos of songs from Black cultures throughout the world.

      In addition to cocojams2, I published two additional cultural blogs - zumalayah and Civil Rights Songs. However, I consider those blogs to be something like encyclopedia entries and rarely add new content to them.

      My focus is on this pancocojams blog.

      **
      By the way, I coined the word "cocojams" for my website because of its (initial) focus on Black American music: "coco" = chocolate = Black people + "jams" = songs / music.

      "pancocojams" = pan (worldwide) + cocojams

      As you may have noticed, like "cocojams", pancocojams has grown to include other subjects besides music, but mostly stays true to its focus on Black cultures throughout the world-with a special interest in African American culture.

      **
      Thanks again, Ms. Merzy Dotes for your comments. I hope that you keep reading. Please suggest material for this blog and feel free to comment about the material found on pancocojams!

      Delete