"I've been working on the railroad" ("Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah")

Junior Member
Kadilov's picture
Датум придружења: 25/01/2012
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 35 недеља 5 дана.

Hello,

I think its a pretty known folk song in US:

I've been working on the railroad
All the live-long day.
I've been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away.
Don't you hear the whistle blowing,
Rise up so early in the morn;
Don't you hear the captain shouting,
"Dinah, blow your horn!"
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow your horn?
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow your horn?
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Someone's in the kitchen I know
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Strummin' on the old banjo!
Singin' fee, fie, fiddly-i-o
Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o-o-o-o
Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o
Strummin' on the old banjo.

My questions are:
1. "Don't you hear the whistle blowing" - I think its about simple whistle in captain's hands, that talks about break during their workday, right?
2. "fee, fie, fiddly-i-o" is it an onomatopoeia of banjo, or these words have some meaning? Or both?

Moderator amoRaЯoma
evfokas's picture
Датум придружења: 29/06/2011
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 5 недеља 2 дана.

The whistle here is an instrument used for the wake-up call, just as a bugle or a bell, not by the captain but by another individual responsible for waking people up. Probably here is a locomotive's horn which is called a whistle
Fiddle is a violin-like instrument and which is unrelated to the banjo. I think that here fiddly is an adverb of fiddle that has also the meaning of messing (secretly most of the times) around, so what the song says as I understand it is: Who's screwing around with Dinah?

Junior Member
Kadilov's picture
Датум придружења: 25/01/2012
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 35 недеља 5 дана.

But you are sure that "fee, fii" is just smth like "la-la-la", aren't you?

So, "Singin' fee, fie, fiddly-i-o" in this context is roughly equal to:
"He sings la-la-la and wastes time"

Also, I found that "fiddle" can be used as a verb - "to play on the fiddle". Maybe this adverb origins from a similar meaning, so "fiddly" = "playing on the banjo"?

Moderator amoRaЯoma
evfokas's picture
Датум придружења: 29/06/2011
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 5 недеља 2 дана.

I am dead sure that fee fi is like la la
Fiddly means something complex to handle because it needs careful actions.The only relation between fiddles and banjos is that they both have strings. You can fiddle with a banjo but then again this means you probably can't play the banjo
One of the uses of fiddle as a verb is the one I already told you and the adverb fiddly isn't used in this way. So the meaning I described above isn't in proper english but it's my opinion, that the song says "Who's fiddling with Dinah" you can take it or you can leave it

Retired Moderator
brightswan's picture
Датум придружења: 23/06/2011
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 1 година 6 недеља.

Here is further informaiton on the origins of this song: http://www.contemplator.com/america/railroad.html

Below is a thread, which deals with the origin of "fiddle around," which means, "to mess around," "to waste time," to "play with something," or "to tinker with something."

The song is too old for the meaning of "fiddle" to mean "screw;" screw in this context is too contemporary. Hearing this song from childhood on, the fiddly-i-o-o-o is simply filler and lyrics that rhymes with banjo. Some of the same stuff musicians do today. Smile

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/fiddle+around

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27ve_Been_Working_on_the_Railroad

If there is more to it than that, please inform us and post a link to back it up! Smile

Moderator
Berliner25's picture
Датум придружења: 24/08/2010
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 20 недеља 1 дан.

The basics: This song is a combination of at least two different songs, combined in the early 1890s and first published in this form in 1894.

You can still pick out the two songs by the change of melody and subject matter.

"Dinah won't you blow your horn" - Dinah is a generic name for the black slave working in the kitchen; blowing the horn means to ring the dinner bell, calling the workers in from the field.

"Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o" is simply the use of alliteration, much like "Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman." - There is no meaning to these syllables and to pull "fiddly" out to try and make sense of it is to interpret the song to the point of absurdity. They are just fun syllables. There is no sexual innuendo in this song.

Junior Member
Kadilov's picture
Датум придружења: 25/01/2012
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 35 недеља 5 дана.

Thanks to everyone!

brightswan, Berliner25, do you think the same about whistle?

evfokas wrote:
The whistle here is an instrument used for the wake-up call, just as a bugle or a bell, not by the captain but by another individual responsible for waking people up.

P.S. there is a really huge thread about this song here http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=65298

Retired Moderator
brightswan's picture
Датум придружења: 23/06/2011
Корисник није на мрежи. Последњи пут је је долазио/ла пре 1 година 6 недеља.

It's stated in the first link I posted that the horn signifies the "call to lunch." As late as the 1950s, dinner bells were also used to call people in from the fields for lunch. My grandparents used this (they were farmers), especially during planting or harvesting seasons.