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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Mike Shipman on May 08, 2012, 02:57:45 PM

Title: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mike Shipman on May 08, 2012, 02:57:45 PM
Hi folks, not sure if this should be in the lyrics section....

I really like the song Shake Sugaree (ElizabethCotten / Mary Flower et al) but cant find out what it means ...can anyone shed any light on the meaning of the term?

Thanks, Mike.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: yogi on May 09, 2012, 01:15:24 AM
Possibly it means having a good time and is related to throwing sugar on the floor and then dancing on it, producing a percussive sound when the feet move on the sugared floor.
This could very well be wrong, mind you, I just think I may have heard this explanation at some point.

Yogi
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 09, 2012, 04:51:47 AM
In the context of the Cotten song (ignore Grateful Dead version -- it has no relation to tradition), the meaning involves loss: "everything I got is done in pawn." I think it's a reasonable assumption that "shake" refers to shooting dice. I could find no credible (underline credible) information about "sugaree." It sounds like it would be southern African-American vernacular, but there's no mention of anything remotely like it in Bartlett's 1890s Dictionary of Americanisms (other than "shake" means to throw dice) nor in Partridge's 1940s Dictionary of American Slang. The notes to the album where Cotten sings it do not speculate on its meaning, and Zora Neale Hurston's  "Of Mules and Men" (source of meaning of "skin game" and "let your deal go down") has nothing about it.

Google is no help -- it's overwhelmed by GD hits and ignorant speculation based mainly on the words to their song. The notes to the Cotten album say the words were made up by her great-grandchildren, as she encouraged them to sing this song at bedtime, and they competed to make up new verses. Still, I can't help but think Cotten had already supplied the chorus. Too bad we can't ask her what she thought it meant.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Slack on May 09, 2012, 06:48:58 AM
"Sugaree" could possibly be a nickname of the good luck (and no doubt attractive) lady that is throwing the dice in a game of craps.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 09, 2012, 07:20:17 AM
The only problem with that theory is that, per the song, "sugaree" is obviously BAD luck.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Slack on May 09, 2012, 07:21:13 AM
Right, time to give the dice to someone else.   ;)
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: uncle bud on May 09, 2012, 07:23:53 AM
It could also just be a nonsense word used to rhyme with lordy me.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Gumbo on May 09, 2012, 07:44:46 AM
I hear this as a 'pet name' so
O Lordy me! Didn't I shake, Sugaree.

lovely track (http://recordoobscura.blogspot.com/2009/09/shake-sugaree.html) btw
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Johnm on May 09, 2012, 08:09:09 AM
Hi all,
I would opt for the nonsense explanation.  It's a children's song, with non sequitir verses, and the tag line of the refrain doesn't pertain to the verses in any obvious way.  I see it as being meaningful in the way that "fee fie foe fum" from "Jack in the Beanstalk" is meaningful.  It is a beautiful song, too, especially as sung by Brenda Evans and backed by Libba Cotten--such calm time.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 09, 2012, 08:21:12 AM
To confuse the matter further without getting any closer to what it might mean, I ran across the following paragraph in "A History of Rowan County, North Carolina" (1916) (http://archive.org/stream/historyofrowanco00rump/historyofrowanco00rump_djvu.txt (http://archive.org/stream/historyofrowanco00rump/historyofrowanco00rump_djvu.txt)) :

"The earliest accounts of the hill-country of North
Carolina, accessible to the writer, are those contained
in Lawson's History of a Journey from Charleston to
Pamlico Sound, in the year 1701. Starting from the
former place in December, 1700, he passed around to
the mouth of Santee River in a boat, and thence up
that stream for a distance in the same way. Then
leaving the river he traveled up between the Santee
and Pee Dee Rivers, until he crossed the Yadkin River
at Trading Ford, within six miles of where Salisbury
now stands. As there were no European settlers
from the lower Santee to Pamlico, and as he often
forgets to mention the scenes through which he passed,
it is very difficult to trace his exact route. Still there
are some waymarks by which we can identify
a part of his course. Among the first of these
is the High Hills of Santee, in Sumter County, S. C.
Then the Waxsaws, Kadapaus (Catawba), and
Sugarees, have left names behind them that indicate
the spots he visited. The name ''Sugaree" suggests
the inquiry whether the ancient name of Sugar
Creek, was not Sugaree, rather than "Sugaw," as
found in old records. "

So maybe it was a localism that Cotten picked because she (or the children) liked the sound, alliteration with "shake," and the previously-mentioned rhyme. I love mysteries.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 09, 2012, 08:27:20 AM
Stop the presses! Here's more information:

philblank.net/Shake%20Shoccoree.doc

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Gumbo on May 09, 2012, 08:52:10 AM
wow - good find, Lyle

Quote
It is hard to know what Elizabeth Cotten's relationship to the Shoccoree/Chicora/Sugaree was. Perhaps this lullaby about dejected poverty, with its references to tobacco (twice),  a pipe, antiquated items like buggies and watch-chains and an obscure reference to an extinct tribe was spontaneously created by her great grandchildren (although her original statement that it was composed by her great grandchildren was contradicted by one of those grandchildren who said that Elizabeth Cotten injected the chorus.) Perhaps it could have been a local minstrel song or popular jingle that she adapted. Her amibguity on the subject could be intentional as "mixed race communities" are still an extremely touchy subject to speak openly about in the South, especially the Carolina piedmont.

here's the Brenda Evans/Elizabeth Cotten version that John mentioned.
ELIZABETH COTTEN (GUITAR) - BRENDA EVANS (SINGING) SHAKE SUGAREE - 45RPMDISCS (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXxgeNoDv6o#)
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mike Shipman on May 09, 2012, 03:18:45 PM
Wowee - what a triumph of investigation!

Thank you so much everyone who responded to this request, I'm really impressed that there was so much interest and considered response.

But, the biggest thanks must go to Lyle for investigation above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, I might go as far as suggesting that Lyle be nominated for the "Sherlock Holmes Investigative Trophy".

This award is not often offered, nor apparently accepted, it would appear that recipients are not always happy with the way the award is referred to "acronyminally"......!

Thanks again , Mike.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 09, 2012, 03:50:09 PM
Aw, Shucks! Thanks for the compliment, Mike. I'll be sure to put the acronym on my resume'. Oh wait, it's already there, in a letter of recommendation.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Shovel on May 12, 2012, 05:59:41 AM
Don't know what a sugaree is but I know what a stingaree can refer to as well as what a sugarbush can refer to in certain contexts. 

Or maybe the producer wrote down sugaree and djr esd really domhomh shake sugary, just a good old milkshake?

I like Lyle's localism post too.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: uncle bud on May 12, 2012, 08:23:42 AM
Perhaps I need to go back and reread the document, but I did not see any real evidence that Sugaree could be tied to the Shoccoree, just that someone found a 250-year-old name that sounds something like what is sung in the song. Am is missing something? It seemed like a bit of a reach.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Johnm on May 12, 2012, 08:25:54 AM
Yes, I agree, uncle bud.  The connection seems a real stretch. 
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 12, 2012, 10:58:02 AM
Yes, it is a stretch -- I would have loved to find a reference to shooting a losing roll of the dice, an Ebonics equivalent to rolling snake-eyes. That may still turn up. Still, the Native American explanation is a more likely one than the others I've read, given that there is a creek in North Carolina that could be pronounced Sugaree by the locals (even though it's listed as Sugar Creek). It's likely that Cotten didn't know anything about the Shoccoree Indians, but might have heard the name of the creek and liked its sound (not to mention the nice alliteration and rhyming potential).

Obviously, that's not proof that would stand up in court (even, as Thoreau once wrote about something he'd observed, not worth reporting to the Royal Society), but it's a possibility. One can always, as in Iris DeMent's song, decide to let the mystery be, but that's hard for some of us. Therefore, I look forward to a better explanation, if one exists.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 12, 2012, 02:10:25 PM
I always heard it as being a term of endearment. Didn't we Shake, Sugaree (honey, baby, darlin', sugar, sugarbabe, etc) people often roll their own with terms of endearment. I'll bet this falls into that category and not into any creek.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 12, 2012, 05:55:32 PM
I always heard it as being a term of endearment. Didn't we Shake, Sugaree (honey, baby, darlin', sugar, sugarbabe, etc) people often roll their own with terms of endearment. I'll bet this falls into that category and not into any creek.

It may not refer to the creek -- I wouldn't argue that point too strongly on the basis of the evidence presented so far. And trying to find the meaning is hampered because the term doesn't seem to appear anywhere else in the tradition (again, ignoring the Grateful Dead song, which is irrelevant to the question as to what it might have meant to E. Cotten). All we have for evidence is the song itself, and it is not a song about relationships or terms of endearment. It's about bad luck and having all your possessions in pawn.

We spent a golden afternoon with her at our house in 1965, talking about lots of different things (including her admiration for Ruth Seeger, who helped her out when her house was facing foreclosure). When some other people arrived, bringing Gary Davis with them, the interaction shifted to take place between the two of them (Davis had a way of taking over -- he was not bashful). Some of that interchange was taped. You can hear it at http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/BrnSnift/SonicAlbum.html (http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/BrnSnift/SonicAlbum.html) .

Unfortunately, since she hadn't yet recorded it, I couldn't ask her what Shake Sugaree meant to her.  The last time we talked to Dock Boggs, he said, "If I don't see you again on earth, I'll meet you on another shore." If I ever meet Libba on another shore, you can bet it'll be the first thing I ask her.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Pan on May 12, 2012, 06:17:47 PM
If we are REALLY determined to know, couldn't we ask from the children of Elizabeth Cotten, as they apparently wrote the song together? 

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 12, 2012, 06:39:30 PM
If I remember correctly, it was her grandchildren rather than her children who co-wrote the song. That's an excellent suggestion -- is anyone in contact with them?

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: jpeters609 on May 12, 2012, 09:08:56 PM
I always heard it as being a term of endearment.

Then there is the rockabilly tune written by Marty Robbins and recorded by Rusty York (in 1959) which supports this assertion. Maybe.

SUGAREE
(Marty Robbins)
RUSTY YORK (CHESS 1730, 1959)

I got a letter from my baby
She said she's comin' home today
I got a letter from my baby
She said she's comin' home today
Oh well, my baby wasn't lyin'
She was comin' home to stay

[Chorus]
Sugaree, sugaree
Sugaree, sugaree
Sugaree, sugaree
Don't you know I love you so

I got a pencil and a paper
And I sat right down to write
I got a pencil and a paper
And I sat right down to write
I said I miss you in the daytime
But I miss you more at night

[Chorus]

Oh well, I met her at the station
She had her baggage in her hand
Oh well, I met her at the station
She had her baggage in her hand
I said I love you pretty baby
I'll make you happy if I can

[Chorus 2x]
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 12, 2012, 09:40:31 PM
Quote
We spent a golden afternoon with her at our house in 1965, talking about lots of different things


You are one lucky duck Lyle. I met her briefly at a concert at Washington Square Church. She looked, (and felt) like an Indian (east Indian) Saint! A Bodisatva beaming enlightenment on the crowd. Fantastic!
Yes those tapes of Rev. Davis and Libba Cotton show a side of him that was not so lovable, and truth be told her music is as close to perfection as anything, but RGD wasn't a millionth part as bad a person as someone like Richard Wagner or Franz Liszt to name a couple of highly revered artists who were total pricks, and he was a more profound musician than either IMHCAO (in my humble crazy assed opinion).
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 13, 2012, 05:04:43 AM
Jeff -- I'd never heard of the Marty Robbins song before -- that certainly supports the other main interpretation. Google hadn't heard of it, either -- the Grateful Dead crowding-out effect I'd mentioned earlier.  It would still be  nice to know (but maybe unknowable at this late date) if it was a term that lots of southerners understood, a localism, or just a word with an interesting sound.

Mr. O: I didn't mean to imply that Rev. Davis was a prick. He DID have a presence, though, unlike anyone I've ever met. When he entered a room, it affected everyone there. He knew he was a great musician, and it wasn't really egotism -- anyone listening to him would agree it was great (and also, as he said, inimitable).

I hadn't thought of this before, but many of the musicians I've met, even briefly, seemed to have some aspect of a bodisatva to them: Cotten, Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bessie Jones, Roscoe Holcomb, Dock Boggs, Dewey Balfa, Mike Seeger, Eric & Suzy Thompson -- the list goes on -- all very different people, but all inspiring. The only exception that comes to mind is J.E. Mainer -- he just struck me as an uncouth rube. Wade, on the other hand, was a sensible gentleman who, like all of them, had something to teach. Maybe that's what I found inspiring about the above people.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 13, 2012, 05:11:43 AM
Correction: in my previous post, I should have said, "...something spiritual to teach." I didn't mean to imply that I'd be capable of learning anything I could use, musically speaking, from people who were so highly evolved.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Shovel on May 13, 2012, 07:13:20 AM
Term of endearment idea falls in line with my earlier post I'll spell out more now:
Sugaree is just a modified term for stingaree -> stinger-> phallic -> penis, sugaree would then be the male equivalent of a female's Sugarbush.  Tastes sweet like candy, etc.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Johnm on May 13, 2012, 07:32:57 AM
Shovel,
Have you ever heard the song sung as it was originally performed?  You are absolutely on the wrong track.  The idea of Libba Cotten backing her granddaughter, still a child, singing a song based on sexual innuendo is dead wrong.  That's not the kind of thing Libba Cotten would have found cute or amusing.   Sugaree has nothing to do with stingeree in "Shake, Sugaree".
 
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 13, 2012, 10:07:23 AM
Quote
Mr. O: I didn't mean to imply that Rev. Davis was a prick. He DID have a presence, though, unlike anyone I've ever met. When he entered a room, it affected everyone there. He knew he was a great musician, and it wasn't really egotism -- anyone listening to him would agree it was great (and also, as he said, inimitable).I hadn't thought of this before, but many of the musicians I've met, even briefly, seemed to have some aspect of a bodisatva to them: Cotten, Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bessie Jones, Roscoe Holcomb, Dock Boggs, Dewey Balfa, Mike Seeger, Eric & Suzy Thompson -- the list goes on -- all very different people, but all inspiring. The only exception that comes to mind is J.E. Mainer -- he just struck me as an uncouth rube. Wade, on the other hand, was a sensible gentleman who, like all of them, had something to teach. Maybe that's what I found inspiring about the above people.


I wish we had "Like " buttons on Weenie, though they might reduce actual discourse. I LOVE this set of observations Lyle....great!  With Davis you definitely felt as though you were in the presence of something like the Great Judge, awesome but not so comfortable for anybody I think. With Libba there did actually seem to be some kind of glow or light emanating from her which I don't remember ever experiencing from anyone else. The beneficence of her smile was a sort of blessing outside my normal experience. I don't know how else to describe the phenomenon except in these questionable religious, mythic terms.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: lindy on May 13, 2012, 10:11:15 AM
I hadn't thought of this before, but many of the musicians I've met, even briefly, seemed to have some aspect of a bodisatva to them: Cotten, Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bessie Jones, Roscoe Holcomb, Dock Boggs, Dewey Balfa, Mike Seeger, Eric & Suzy Thompson -- the list goes on -- all very different people, but all inspiring.

John Jackson. If there was ever an individual who was not wearing Tibetan or Burmese monastic robes who struck me as a Bodhisattva, it was John Jackson.

Might there be another member of the Seeger clan who would also know the answer if Libba's grandchildren were hard to find?
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 13, 2012, 10:12:20 AM
Quote
Shovel,Have you ever heard the song sung as it was originally performed?  You are absolutely on the wrong track.  The idea of Libba Cotten backing her granddaughter, still a child, singing a song based on sexual innuendo is dead wrong.  That's not the kind of thing Libba Cotten would have found cute or amusing.   Sugaree has nothing to do with stingeree in "Shake, Sugaree".


I agree completely John. That's not the kind of "term of endearment" I had in mind at all. If anything it is redolent of an old couple tenderly reminiscing about old, hard, but still treasured times.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 13, 2012, 10:21:58 AM
Quote
Might there be another member of the Seeger clan who would also know the answer if Libba's grandchildren were hard to find?


I just dropped a line to my new facebook friend Peggy Seeger, whom i don't know personally, asking her if she knows the origin of the term. No answer so far. Maybe its obvious to every one but us? :P
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: eric on May 13, 2012, 11:14:23 AM
I'm a bit late to this discussion, but maybe I can contribute some disconnected, pertinent/impertinent observations:

Somewhere. I once read a discussion about the word sugaree that related it to a supposed African or Gullah word "shivaree" meaning some sort of party.  I have no idea if this rubbish or not.

I was lucky enough to meet Elizabeth Cotten through Mike Seeger when he had some sort of visiting professorship at Fresno State.  She had a profound   dignity about her.

Paraphrasing David Holt, the old time players are a kind of wise man (or woman) and these tunes are bits of wisdom being passed down to us.  I like to think of them that way.

Finally:  "Wagner's music is better than it sounds"  - Mark Twain

Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 13, 2012, 12:11:06 PM
Unless there's another meaning I'm not familiar with, "shivaree" comes from the French "charivari," not Gulla. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charivari (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charivari) for corroboration on that point. We had shivarees out in the country in Minnesota when I was a kid -- all the neighbors would assemble in front of a newlywed's house at about 10:00 at night, and all of us would yell, bang on plow coulters and other noisemakers, and in general create a disturbance until the couple appeared at the door to acknowledge our presence. I believed at the time that it was a common occurrence among country folk, although I've never asked other farm-raised people about it.

Yes, Eric, "bits of wisdom being passed down to us" is a good description of what is best of tradition, whether it's by song or story. Alas, the songs of today are inane, and nobody I know tells stories any more. For an example of the story-telling tradition in my family, my older brother, Mike, tells a dog story at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgytAiw5Isk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgytAiw5Isk) (filmed by my oldest son).

Lyle

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 13, 2012, 04:13:09 PM
But can anybody tell me what diddy wah diddy means?
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Johnm on May 13, 2012, 04:33:58 PM
Seriously, since when do kids' songs have to mean anything or make sense?  If songs have to make sense at some level, a good portion of the Old Time repertoire is going to require some serious ongoing parsing.  Or as old Jimmy Sutton would say, "Sheep, sheep, bah-bah".
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: eric on May 13, 2012, 05:01:59 PM
Lyle,

That's a great story.  I wish I had videos of my grandfather's stories.  I was told that some of them were actually true...
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on May 13, 2012, 05:14:07 PM
Johnm: You're absolutely right, kid's songs don't have to make any sense, but if it's a word that does have meaning in the community, I want to know what it means. After all, look at the folklorists who've written books about the meaning of kid's songs and singing games (including the macabre "ashes, ashes, we all fall down"). Several years ago, I wrote down a quote that's apropos here (including the source -- I get irritated with unattributable quotes):

Nonsense is nonsense. But the history of nonsense is scholarship.
  Saul Lieberman to an audience at Jewish Theological Seminary, introducing a lecture on the Kabbalah by Gerhard Scholem, sometime in the 1940s. Quoted by Cynthia Ozick, "The Heretic," New Yorker, 9/2/2002, p. 145.

Lyle
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 13, 2012, 05:41:10 PM
Johnm: You're absolutely right, kid's songs don't have to make any sense, but if it's a word that does have meaning in the community, I want to know what it means. After all, look at the folklorists who've written books about the meaning of kid's songs and singing games (including the macabre "ashes, ashes, we all fall down"). Several years ago, I wrote down a quote that's apropos here (including the source -- I get irritated with unattributable quotes):

Nonsense is nonsense. But the history of nonsense is scholarship.
  Saul Lieberman to an audience at Jewish Theological Seminary, introducing a lecture on the Kabbalah by Gerhard Scholem, sometime in the 1940s. Quoted by Cynthia Ozick, "The Heretic," New Yorker, 9/2/2002, p. 145.

Lyle


I love that quote!
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Johnm on May 13, 2012, 06:00:50 PM
Yes, that is a great quote, Lyle.  Thanks!
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Stuart on May 13, 2012, 11:38:55 PM
According to the liner notes (http://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/smithsonian_folkways/SFW40147.pdf (http://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/smithsonian_folkways/SFW40147.pdf)), "Shake Sugaree" came together in the early sixties. Prior to that, the Marty Robbins' song, "Sugaree," had been recorded three different times, the first time by the Jordanaires in 1957. If it received airplay or if the record was played at home, the children could have picked it up (it's catchy) and worked it into the song. Here are the Jordanaires on Youtube singing "Sugaree":

The Jordanaires- Sugaree.AVI (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBvL2Lx3gtQ#)

Obviously, in this context, it's a female name--either a proper name, nickname, pet name, or name of endearment (maybe all of the above).
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Shovel on May 17, 2012, 03:29:10 AM
Shovel,
Have you ever heard the song sung as it was originally performed?  You are absolutely on the wrong track.  The idea of Libba Cotten backing her granddaughter, still a child, singing a song based on sexual innuendo is dead wrong.  That's not the kind of thing Libba Cotten would have found cute or amusing.   Sugaree has nothing to do with stingeree in "Shake, Sugaree".

Thanks for that John.

I guess I somehow thought the discussion was also  about the possible origin of the word, not just its use in this specific song?   

If that is in fact the case, I've encountered words here and there, even in black music , whose meanings changed according to context.  I've also seen evidence that the meanings of words can evolve over time. 

Stingaree
Sugaree

It's very possible those words are completely unrelated.   But I don't think it's impossible to imagine a person back in the 20s or earlier, in the midst of songs about stinging bees and stingarees, to say baby, when you had enough of that old stingaree down there, come check out my sugaree!  I wouldn't bet money on such things, but it wouldn't be surprising at all.

Then sometime between the 20s and the 60s, the term evolves into a general term of endearment whose relation to the word stingaree is kind of irrelevant because nobody's singing about Bumble Bees anymore.

I'll jump wholeheartedly on the bandwagon that doesn't think she was singing to her kids about that other thing.  Actually I'm kind of shocked that there exists such a bandwagon in response to my bandwagon.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Stuart on May 17, 2012, 08:12:25 AM
I couldn't find any solid information on the origin or etymology of the word "Sugaree" in the context of this song. Most of the information is in the form of "I read somewhere" or "someone said" or "it sounds like," which doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence, especially to someone who has done a little work in the historical development of language and writing systems.

One of the problems is that language is spoken and a very, very small percentage of what is spoken is recorded in writing, and even less in sound recordings. Unless there is some hard evidence that indicates exactly--or even approximately-- where in the line of transmission the change from say, "stingaree" to "Sugaree" occurred, we're SOL. Still, it's fun to guess and speculate, but I wouldn't bet the family jewels on any guesses that are impressionistic and not analytic, and not supported by solid evidence.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Johnm on May 17, 2012, 08:51:32 AM
If the basis for assuming sugaree is related to stingeree is purely morphological, i.e., both words end in "eree", then one might expect a similar relationship between "filigree" and pedigree".  There is none.  The fact that two words sound alike is not evidence for their having similar or shared meanings.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Stuart on May 17, 2012, 09:30:59 AM
How 'bout possum and blossom, John?  "When the possums are in the blossoms..." :P

Sometimes mispronunciation and/or mishearing can yield a "new" word. In the "someone wrote" category, I ran across a post that said that supposedly stingaree came from stingray and was then used to refer to skates in the Chesapeake Bay area. Well, maybe as it makes sense, but no solid evidence was given.

Some of the discussions I read while I was looking around reminded me of the old saying, "It isn't what people don't know that gets them in the most trouble, it's what they know with absolute certainty that just isn't true." From Samuel Johnson, perhaps? 
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Rivers on May 17, 2012, 04:40:09 PM
Relating 'stingaree' to 'sugaree' would probably be better classified under 'entomology', not 'etymology'.  :)
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Shovel on May 19, 2012, 11:22:29 AM
Still, it's fun to guess and speculate, but I wouldn't bet the family jewels on any guesses that are impressionistic and not analytic, and not supported by solid evidence.

Right, I agree with that approach .. like I said, I wouldn't bet money on my idea.  Johnm, on the other hand, went all in pre flop against it so I was just trying to retrace my steps in arriving at it as a possibility, even if it's a remote one.  I'm sure Johnm draws on great context and has given a lot of thought so I don't take his rebuttal lightly either. 
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Stuart on May 19, 2012, 03:30:20 PM
My guess is that it's a term of endearment derived from "Sugar," just as "Sweetie" is derived from "sweet." The spelling/orthography is arbitrary as it is with with many words.  Another guess is that someone wanted to differentiate it from "Sugary" (in written form, anyway), as it's a proper name in the Marty Robbins' song which appears to predate the transcription of "Shake Sugargee."

It's too bad that the Grateful Dead song has saturated the results of any search, otherwise we might actually get a few clues and maybe even some solid leads as to the origins and attested usages of the word. It's possible that a knowledgeable reference/research librarian might be able to point us in the right direction with respect to other resources.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: btasoundsradio on June 20, 2012, 10:12:34 AM
 >:D
I've always interpreted the words to Shake Sugaree as a broke woman prostituting herself.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Danae on June 16, 2013, 04:21:51 AM
Hi all of you !   I am French, living in France and I met you because I was wondering what "shake sugaree" meant.  I love Elizabeth Cotten and particularly that song.  I could understand everything except the title and I see that I am not alone..  Thank you so much for all your explanations, I enjoy them.  Kind regards, Danae
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: maddoggirl on June 16, 2013, 02:12:19 PM
Not to complicate matters further, but the McTell record 'East St Louis Blues' also known as 'Fare Ye Well' contains the line: 'if you can't do the sugaree, get yourself on out of this house to me', which to me suggests it was a dance (or, at least, that McTell understood it to be one). That was recorded in '33.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: uncle bud on June 16, 2013, 03:33:10 PM
Hi maddoggirl - I've always thought McTell sang "shivaree" in that tune, though it's close. It does make me wonder whether sugaree is a corruption of shivaree, as Eric mentioned back in the thread.

Edited to add: Et bienvenue, Danae. If it is a corruption of shivaree, the original word is French: charivari.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: maddoggirl on June 16, 2013, 03:38:52 PM
I really hear a 'g' in there, but that may well be because I had already seen it written as 'sugaree' (or rather, for some reason, 'sugary') in lyric pages online...
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Zenit_boy on December 03, 2016, 10:29:30 AM
I'm liking the sound of it being a nick name of some kind. It is a blues song after all and all of the lyrics are either about loss or the inevitable loss of ALL of lifes possessions.

"Oh lordie me
Didn't I shake sugaree"

I'm guessing the shake part is like saying "didn't I tremble sugaree". I'd imagine a person losing all of their worldly possessions would shake and trembling a little.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: poozmeister on September 21, 2017, 12:14:55 PM
Realizing it's an old post... but I was looking up the song recently. I always thought "Shake" implied "Dance" and Sugaree was as Yogi suggested, throwing sugar on the floor before a dance. So everything is going wrong in the song, but the attitude is "well, we're broke, but didn't we have fun (kick up a storm) getting here? We did ok!"
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: poozmeister on September 21, 2017, 12:51:52 PM
Oh, and a friend pointed out "I'm going to heaven in a brown pea shell" likely meant too poor to afford a coffin.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Mr.OMuck on September 22, 2017, 06:21:13 AM
Just re-reading this thread. Lyle Lofgren is unfortunately no longer with us, and I don't know how much longer Weenie will continue, but for me at least it is fascinating and immensely entertaining reading. I'd hate for all of these observations, accute or far fetched to be lost forever! I wonder if all of Weenie could be printed out into some large phone book, Whole Earth Catalogue sized book of some sort as an archive, an encyclopedia and just an amazing
resource and read? Has this option occurred to anybody else?

We could get Crumb to do the cover.
Title: Re: Shake sugaree - meaning of...?
Post by: Rivers on September 18, 2018, 06:10:20 PM
Mr.OMuck,

Just catching up on old unread threads. I've been pretty busy for the last five years or so.

Weenie may be around forever. There has been a "weenie in perpetuity version 1.0" plan in place for some time that the steering committee hashed out.

We should review it again soon though, and call out for the help needed to make it so. I'll start a public thread on this at some point.

Rivers