A lot of sea shanties on TikTok may not actually be sea shanties, according to old scholarship

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2021/01/21/a-lot-of-sea-shanties-on-tiktok-may-not-actually-be-sea-shanties-according-to-old-scholarship.html

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Sigh, here we go with another category debate. Guess what: in common, non-technical English, they’re sea shanties. If we decide to write a textbook on maritime musical traditions, then the distinction is important. On TikTok? Not so much.


Adam Neely’s recent video about this was pretty good:


oh no, the shantier-than-thou are sniffing disapprovingly!


Whose round is it?


You are telling me that “Fuck you with a bloody anchor” might not be traditional?


So a sea shanty could also be thought of as… M Sea-ing?



Cultural appropriation?


Ok now do the difference between a reel a jig and a hornpipe


She wrongs
sea songs
shilling sea shanties
by the sea (Howard) shore.

What about all those (H)ollywood scenes of a fiddler or whistler rousing/supporting sailors at their work?

And (perhaps) to redeem my attempt at humor… (yes I know you’ve seen it before)


Actually that may be the most typical of the genre. I think obscenity was the rule. You sang to keep rhythm, and I expect many of the lyrics were comments on the officers and owners.

One thing I remember fondly from my youth was a late night ride provided by some friends on a reproduction of a small longship (think it was 10 oars to the side). It was pretty late at night, and we rowing around Baltimore inner harbor. This trip featured about half the crew was out for the first time. The experienced part of the crew gave voice to reduce the amount of tangled oars. They had their own versions of the songs, and none were suitable for the god bothering crowd. Many references to sheep, cabin boys, etc…

Anyhow since it was inner harbor in the 80’s, there was one of those suburban tourist destination (bars restaurants, more bars in what was an industrial space). it was amusing when we swept by the pier, which was covered with 20 somethings getting blotto.

Yes, they also had the “daytime” lyrics, where the lewd bits were at least buried under sufficient innuendo that the pre-pubescent didn’t understand it.


Them’s a musicologist’s fightin’ words… (insert animated Popeye’s “Ah-gah-gah-gaga” here)!


reel 2/2, jig 6/4, hornpipe 4/4. The biggest difference between a reel and hornpipe is that the hornpipe is swung a lot more.


This is bollocks because not all shanties are work songs, and not all work songs are shanties. Not all sea work songs die when you hit the shore. Not all sea songs sung in a work situation are traditional work songs (fixing the nets on the shore is done communally but has no shared rhythm required to coordinate for example.)

You may define a sea shanty as a work song sung at sea but your definition isn’t useful to most people.

Shanty on.


Best thing in any Assassin’s Creed game ever were the sea shanties in Black Flag.


Oh hey, that’s our local tallship


Congratulations, you found the Neil deGrasse Tyson for sea shanties.


Sure whatever. Just give me more of these shanties and not-technically-shanties.

More or less explicit.

As I walked out one evening upon a night’s career,
I spied a lofty clipper ship and to her I did steer.
She hoisted up her sig-a-nals which I so quickly knew,
And when she saw me bunting up she immediately hove to.
She had a dark and a roving eye, and her hair hung downs in ring-a-lets.
She was a nice girl, a decent girl, but one of the rakish kind.

So up the stairs and into bed I took that maiden fair.
I fired off my carronade into her thatch of hair.
I fired off a broadside until my shot was spent,
Then rammed that fireship’s waterline until my ram was bent.

Then in the morning she was gone, my money was gone too.
My clothes she’d hocked, my watch she stole, my seabag bid adieu.
But she’d left behind a souvenir, I’d have you all to know.
And in nine days, to my surprise, there was fire down below.

The North Atlantic Squadron has a good strong rhythm, but I’m not linking to that.


My question is if the Renfair pirates who have kept this form of music alive for decades are capitalizing on this.

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