Friday, June 6, 2014

Various (Somewhat Discreetly Worded) Meanings Of "Hog-Eye" and "Hog-Eye Man"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides discreetly worded definitions and excerpts from online discussions about the meanings of the vernacular American English terms "hog-eye" and "hogeye man".

This post also provides comments about the meaning of the word "navvy" as found in the song "Hog Eye Man" and in other folk songs.

In addition, this post showcases two YouTube examples of the song "Hog Eye Man".

Click for the companion pancocojams post "Sally In The Garden" (Siftin Sand) Lyrics & Comments.

The content of this post is provided for folkloric, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the collectors and the featured performers of this song. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

There are several definitions for the American English terms "hog-eye" and "hog-eye man". These meanings range from socially correct to what some consider to be quite obscene. I've presented these definitions in the chronological order that I think they were coined [based on my admittedly limited online reading on this subject.]

Hog eye & Hog-Eye Man
1. a barge used on the canals and rivers of the United States at the time of the Gold Rush in California (1850) ...hog-eye man being one of the crew of a hog-eye) [Captain Whall, "Sea Songs and Shanties", first printed in 1910, is perhaps the best collection of 19th c. sailors work songs. quote by Q in [23 May 08 - 01:56 PM]

2. Hog eye- a female's sexual parts (vulva or vagina); An equivalent African American Blues/Jazz vernacular term is "jelly roll".

Hog-eye man: a womanizer, a man who is very sexually active (with women) [These definitions & comments are found in the Mudcat post whose link is given above.]
This description is very similar to "Jody", the African American folk character & the military cadence character.

3. hog-eye - a squint (eye) appearance; "Hog-eye man": a man who had a squint eye (similar to "popeye" and bug-eye - a person who has bulging eyes
Garry still swears by his grandfather's definition that sailors were called 'hogeyes' because they squinted in the sun (like pigs, and like Popeye!)."
Read that article for more definitions of "hog-eye" and the word "navvy". That article and others mentions that "Hog-eye" is used as place names in the United States and elsewhere.

Navvy - a semi skilled laborer [from the word "navigation"]

Subject: RE: I give up. What's a HOGEYE?
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 07 Jun 99 - 07:44 AM

The term Navvy has been around since the beginning of the 19th century, and has always been used to refer common laborers on any project which requires digging/excavation: canals, earthworks, pipelines, levees, railroads. Later, when a machine was developed to do this work, it was called--as one might expect--the steam navvy. The term was, indeed, taken from the word navigator, but not in any way limited to seafaring--more having to do with surveying.
The tow-path driver responsible for the draft animals which towed barges and canal boats on the old canal systems was known as the HOGGY; that possibly might be the basis for the term hog-eye, through folk etymology.
Read Q [23 May 08 - 04:22 PM] in the above linked Mudcat post for a related song and term "ox-eyed man". And read the comments in that post about the sexualized meaning of "one eyed" and "dead-eye".

Also, read this comment about the racialized meaning of the term "hog-eye man" and the substitution of the terms "navy man" or "railroad man" for what is now known as the "n word" in other versions of the song.

Subject: RE: I give up. What's a HOGEYE?
Date: 15 Mar 12 - 07:26 PM

I first heard this song a hell of a long time ago and it was sung as "railroad ni&&&r* with his sea-boots on". (Although why a railroad man be wearing sea-boots is beyond me!) The song was referred to as a "ni&&&r* shanty", lumped in with others like "Bullgine" and the cotton-screwing songs as being of African-American origin.
I always understood the Hogeye Man to be, firstly, Black. And secondly, one adept at getting some hog-eye.(more power to him!)
So many shanties have been sanitized. Agree with Guest, lighter, above that "navvy" was just cleaning it up.
Don't know the origin of the word but a navvy is a laborer.
This word was fully spelled out in this quote.

That comment refers to these lines in versions of the song "Hog Eye Man":
"Railroad navvy with his hog-eye" and "railroad navy with his big boots on" or "railroad navy with his sea-boots on".

It's likely that the "sea boots on" phrase was coined to conform with the misapprehension that "navvy" meant a sailor.

However, read the comment by Matthew B : 06 Jun 99 - 08:43 PM who wrote that he was surprised to read that "railroad navy" was the original description that was used in that song.

I'm not sure which phrase whether "railroad navy" or "railroad ni&&&r" was the earliest phrase. However, "big buck ni&&&r with his sea boots on" was likely a later coinage.

Subject: RE: I give up. What's a HOGEYE?
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 19 Apr 12 - 01:18 PM

...To sum up: "hog's-eye" and "hogeye" had a both clean and dirty meanings. The various Mudcat minds that have discussed the matter over many years are essentially unanimous in their belief as to what the dirty meaning was.

I'm inclined to agree with Gibb's suspicion that at the moment of its creation, "The Hogeye Man" (or just a line about the "hogeye man") simply referred to a barge sailor. (If that meaning had not been both natural and probable, I can't imagine the strait-laced Whall publishing the shanty in any form.)

Dirty interpretations presumably didn't take hold for some singers till at least ten minutes later. If a sexual "hog's-eye" actually predated the shanty, that would only make reinterpretation inevitable.

Subject: RE: I give up. What's a HOGEYE?
From: Kim C
Date: 28 Mar 00 - 02:05 PM

I am a HUGE fan of shanties and this is one of my favorites. My, what a lively discussion! My conclusion is, like so many bawdy songs of old, hog-eye has a double meaning and those who get it, get it, and those who don't can still enjoy the song and not feel like they're out of the loop...
Read that post for more comments about these terms song and also for various lyrics for the song "Hog-Eye Man".

Example #1: Martin Carthy & Family: Hog-Eye Man

wolfgpunkt, Uploaded on May 31, 2009

From: Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI- 2006.

Explanatory liner notes by record label ANTI-:
A hog-eye was apparently a type of barge used in the canals and rivers of America from the 1850's onward. Thus, "hog-eye man" was used in derogation by the deep water sailors who used this chantey at the capstan. Many of the original verses to this chantey were far too obscene to have ever found their way into print.

Image: Miss Marjorie Joesting: Rock On: 1926.
Marjorie, the future Mrs. Arthur Lange, was both Miss Washington, D.C., and a Miss America runner-up at Atlantic City in 1926.
National Photo Company Collection glass negative, August 2, 1926.
Via Shorpy:

Lyrics and annotations in


1. Oh, hand me down my riding cane,
I’m off to meet my darlin’ Jane.

Chorus: And a hog-eye!
Railroad navvy with his hog-eye,
Steady on a jig with a hog-eye-o,
She wants the hog-eye man!

2. Oh, the hog-eye man is the man for me,
Sailin’ down from o’er the sea. – Chorus.

3. Oh, he came to the shack where Sally did dwell,
He knocked on the door, he rung a bell. – Chorus.

4. Oh, who’s been here since I been gone,
Railroad navvy with his sea boots on. – Chorus.

5. If I catch him here with Sally once more,
I’ll sling me hook, go to sea once more. – Chorus.

6. Oh, Sally’s in the garden sifting sand,
Her hog-eye man sittin’ hand in hand. – Chorus.

7. Oh, Sally’s in the garden, punchin’ dough,
The cheeks of her arse go chuff, chuff, chuff! – Chorus.

8. Oh, I won’t wear a hog-eye, damned if I do,
Got jiggers in his feet and he can’t wear shoes. – Chorus.

9. Oh, the hog-eye man is the man for me,
He is blind and he cannot see. – Chorus.

10. Oh, a hog-eye ship and a hog-eye crew,
A hog-eye mate and a skipper too. – Chorus.

Explanatory liner notes by ANTI-:
A hog-eye was apparently a type of barge used in the canals and rivers of America from the 1850′s onward. Thus, “hog-eye man” was used in derogation by the deep water sailors who used this chantey at the capstan. Many of the original verses to this chantey were far too obscene to have ever found their way into print.

Example #2: The Morris Brothers - "Hog Eyed Man"

Cridantis Videos, Uploaded on Dec 1, 2009

I found this record, dusty and badly warped, in a box from the attic. According to my mother it was my older brother's favorite childhood record.

Arranged by John and David Morris
Unfortunately, I don't feel capable of transcribing this rendition of "Hog Eyed Man".

Here are two comments from that sound file's discussion thread:
TamarZucker, 2012
"LOVE IT!!!! This is a sea shanty. Hog eyed man refers to the same thing as a one eyed snake.-a sexual allusion. I wonder if joining the Morris Brothers was Jim Carter (of Johnny Cash 's wife's family I believe) did the animal noises as he was well known for them?

TamarZucker, 2012
"and "Cindy's in the bed with the hog eyed man." I love this recording!."

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  1. I think a hog eye man might be a man that wears a sword knot .

    1. terry baker II, thanks for your comment. However, I don't understand it.