Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The REAL Sources & Meanings of The Saying "Hold My Mule"

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised October 29, 2017]

This post provides definitions of the vernacular saying "Hold my mule" and also includes early examples of that saying in secular and religious contexts.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, etymological, educational, and religious purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks to the Rev. Shirley Caesar, the vocalist who is featured in this post for her musical legacy. Thanks also to the publisher of the video that is featured in this post.

Click these links for two other pancocojams post that includes information about the phrase "hold my mule": The Black Gospel Source of The "U Name It Challenge" (Thanksgiving Church Remix)

and for another rendition of Shirley Caesar's - "Shouting John "(Hold My Mule) with videos, lyrics, and comments.

In its literal sense, the person saying "hold my mule" asks someone to hold on to his or her belonging/s (such as his or her mule, shoes, purse, or hat) so that he or she is able to or better able to perform a particular activity. However, for the most part, "hold my mule" is a figurative expression that signals that something out of the ordinary is about to happen or that onlookers want something out of the ordinary (like a fight) to go down (to occur).

In a church context, a person who says "Hold my mule" is signaling that he or she or someone else is about to do a Holy dance (i.e. "get his or her shout on", "get happy"; "cut a step", "go in").

In a street context, "Hold my mule" is an announcement that the person saying this expression or someone else is about to escalate a verbal confrontation or is about to get into a physical confrontation - or that people are looking forward to an increase in confrontation as a result of verbal exchanges such as "throwing shade" (insulting, dissin someone etc.)

Urban definition:
The definition for "hold my mule" that is found in urban differs from the one that I've indicated. The definition of that saying in that website (which I've also read on at least one other website) is that "hold my mule" means "to refrain from a particular action (such as fighting)". I think that definition is either in error or it is a change from the old meaning of "hold my mule", perhaps because of that saying's similarity to the infinitive "to hold someone back" (from doing something).
hold my mule

Southern expression: To refrain from beating some one's ass.
Origin: Has something to do with Jesus and his mule.

Son: Mommy, my teacher called me a dummy.
Mom: Lawd! Somebody hold my mule!

Tom: I heard that you got fired.
Dan: Yeah, I had to hold my mule on them beeotches!

Trina: Girl! They repossessed my car!
Keshia: Hold my mule!!!

by CatSuga October 10, 2006

I (also) think that contributor's statement that the Biblical origin of "hold my mule" is wrong.

1. Old Time Dance Song "Hold My Mule"
The earliest use of this phrase that I've found is the African American old time music song "Hold My Mule". "Hold My Mule" is a variant form of the African American old time [19th century] dance tune "Jim Along Josie". The song "Hold My Mule" is included in Dorothy Scarborough's 1925 book On The Trail Of Negro Folk Songs (pps 105-106)

Hold my mule while I dance Josey, [3x]
Oh, Miss Susan Brown.

Wouldn't give a nickel if I couldn't dance Josey [3x]
Oh, Miss Susan Brown.

Had a glass of buttermilk and I danced Josey [3x]
Oh, Miss Susan Brown.
Anglo-American collector Dorothy Scarborough wrote "We find reference to this old song and dance* in a dance-song given me by Mr. E, R, Boyd, Jr. This is danced like a Virginia reel.

*Previously Scarborough wrote that "this old song" was "Josey" also known as "Jim Along, Josey". To clarify, Dorothy Scarborough's informants were White, but the song examples that they shared with her were from African Americans. Also, as clarification, the children's form of "Jim Along Josey" that is most familiar today in the United States (whose verses replace one verb after another, such as "jump" in "Jump Jim Along Jim Along Josie, jump Jim Along, Jim along Jo" with "run" etc) is just one form of the "Josie"/"Josey song. Click for an example of the most widely known form of "Jim Along Josie" today. Note: "jim along" probably means the same thing as the movement phrase "get along".

In the context of the "Hold My Mule" (and other "Josie"/"Josey" songs), "Josey" is the name of a dance or the name of a dance step. But in other "Josey" songs, the word "josie", "josey" is a female's or male's name/nickname, and also the name of a particular type of woman's coat that was once quite fashionable (a "joseph").

Click for a comment that I wrote in 2004 on the Mudcat folk music forum about the various meanings of the word "Josie" (josey)

2. "Hold my mule" = an exclamation used to indicate that some confrontation is "fixin' (getting ready) to occur
For instance, in some online videos of "throwing shade" that I've watched, it appears to me that the saying "hold my mule" is spoken mirthfully by an onlooker as an indication that the shade (insults) being thrown (exchanged) are getting good (or "bad" depending on your point of view), and as a result, someone may get so angry that a real confrontation may occur.

(I'm not going to link to any video of throwing shade besides "Welcome To Reading and Shade 101" because the people acting like famous R&B and Pop singers routinely use profanity.)
The legends' panel" was one of the recommendations of other videos about "reading and throwing shade" that was given in that video's summary. In a couple of the legends panel's parody videos, the saying "hold my mule" was "spoken" by Whitney Houston with the same intent that I indicated above (in point #2)

RELIGIOUS USE OF THE SAYING "HOLD MY MULE" [Revised November 27, 2016]
The Gospel Song "Shouting John" (also known as "Hold My Mule") is the most commonly used name for a Gospel song that was popularized in the 1980s by African American Gospel singer Pastor Shirley Caesar.

"Praise The Lord While I Have A Chance" is the actual name of the Gospel song that Shirley Caesar and her choir sand after her "Shouting John"/"Hold My Mule" story. Click for the lyrics to that song. Also, click for biographical information about James Bignon.

I don't know if Shirley Caesar is the author of the "Shouting John"/"Hold My Mule" story, but there's no doubt that that story was popularized by that Gospel singer since she first recorded it as a prelude to her rendition of "Praise The Lord" etc." in 1988. And certainly Shirley Caesar's "Shouting John" story has become much more well known as a result of Dj Suede's production of the "U Name It Challenge".

A clip of the introduction to Shirley Caesar's rendition of "Shouting John" ("Hold My Mule") was used in a viral dance challenge meme "U Name It" in November 2016. Here's information about that dance challenge:
"Gospel icon Shirley Caesar's remix of "Hold My Mule," featuring Albertina Walker and Milton Brunson, kicks onto Billboard's Hot Gospel Songs chart (dated Dec. 3) at No. 2, propelled by its No. 1 debut on Gospel Streaming Songs, as it surges by 7,510 percent to 821,000 U.S. streams in the week ending Nov. 17, according to Nielsen Music. The 79-year-old vocalist and pastor originally recorded the track in 1988. (Caesar first reached a Billboard chart in 1975.)
* Date corrected Nov. 25, 2016; I had initially written the late 1950s.

Here are quotes from about the phrase "Hold my mule":

BigFoot_BigThumb December 06, 2006,
"Isn't this based upon the Shirley Caeser song "Hold My Mule" where the old man tells the church folks to literally "hold his mule" while he gives praise out in the middle of his field while he's plowing? I take it that you haven't heard this song. If not, the song is about an old man who goes to this saddidy church where he likes to shout, and they come to his house to tell him that they don;t carry on like that in this church. Well, this man has a testimony and he tells them since I can't shout in your church, "hold my mule" cuz I'm gonna praise him right here. So I guess that person is just using a saying to indicate that they're about to give God some praise. It's a country thang."
"saddity" = African American Vernacular English word meaning "high society" (snobbisn).

Click for a version of this fictional story.

Here's a video of Shirley Caesar singing this song:

Shirley Caesar "Shouting John Hold My Mule"

chj333, Uploaded on Feb 15, 2010

Shirley Caesar "Shouting John pt1"
Here are three other comments about the saying "Hold my mule" from

vtguy84, December 06, 2006
"It's a simple Southern expression that just means "Pardon me." You usually hear it in the church before someone gets their praise on. I have also heard it outside of the church where if someone is ready to go off on another person, they will be like "Hold my mule while I go handle this issue."

To my knowledge, it has no Biblical symbolism."

SisterT on December 06, 2006

It means hold my shoes while I get my praise on!

uniquepraise on December 06, 2006

Quote from: SisterT on December 06, 2006, 11:10:24 AM
"It means hold my shoes while I get my praise on! LOL! :D

"And my hat! ;D"

What "Reading Someone", "Throwing Shade", & "No Tea No Shade" Mean

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  1. Kudos; this is really good work that contains the etymological context and citations all too often missing in discussions of cultural practices.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous and you're welcome.

      I really appreciate your compliment.

  2. Very comprehensive and useful - thank you! Must now explore the rest of your blog!