04 January 2012

"Have some Madeira, m'Dear"

Flanders and Swann presenting their "At the Drop of Another Hat" performance on Broadway in 1967 to an American audience for whom they unfortunately felt compelled to explain that a "flat" is an "apartment".  They've also slightly bowlderized the lyrics (originals here) by changing "prowess" to "finesse" (and the concluding "beard in her ear" becomes "voice in her ear.")

Unaware of the wiles of the snake in the grass
And the fate of the maiden who topes,
She lowered her standards by raising her glass,
Her courage, her eyes and his hopes.
She sipped it, she drank it, she drained it, she did
He quietly refilled it again
And he said as he secretly carved one more notch
On the butt of his gold-handled cane.
"Have some Madeira, m'Dear!
I've got a small cask of it here
And once it's been opened, you know it won't keep
Do finish it up, it will help you to sleep.
Have some Madeira, m'Dear!
It's really an excellent year.
Now if it were gin, you'd be wrong to say yes,
The evil gin does would be hard to assess
(Besides it's inclined to affect my prowess)
Have some Madeira, m'Dear!"

Posted because I learned something.  For the last four decades, whenever I listened to the record and heard the phrase -
And port is a wine I can well do without.
It's simply a case of "chacun a son gout."
- I interpreted it as "shadow of some gout" (because alcohol can trigger acute gouty attacks)*.  But in French it means "to each his own, there's no accounting for taste."
Interestingly, English speakers use this expression considerably more than the French, though it has been slightly twisted into "chacun à son goût" (literally, "each one to his taste") or "chacun a son goût" ("each one has his taste"). The correct French expression, however, is (à) chacun son goût.
You learn something every day.

Addendum:  I wonder if Michael Flanders shared the same misunderstanding of what "gout" means.  I notice on the video that when he sings the phrase at about 0:55 he exhibits a wincing expression as though experiencing a pang of pain.  Perhaps the lyrics were written by Donald Swann and Mr. Flanders doesn't understand French. 

Second addendum:  The second phrase that confused me is
"She made no reply, up her mind and a dash for the door."
It's an example of syllepsis.  The other two examples in the song are more straightforward and understandable:
"...he hastened to put out the cat,
The wine, his cigar and the lamps..."

"She lowered her standards by raising her glass,
Her courage, her eyes and his hopes."


  1. I have this album--I bought it particularly for their "Greensleeves" which brought back pleasant memories of my Pre-Shakespearean Drama course with Dr. O'Connor at Rutgers in 1959-60! Droll, but somewhat obscure.

  2. Point of clarification--the album is audio,

  3. Gosh, I haven' t heard that in years. Thanks!

  4. The kids gave me the boxed set for Fathers Day some years ago. Enlightened self-interest, I susepct, since they probably listen to it as much as I.

    Once in a while I managed to play some at school...

  5. Bizarrely I was just humming that tune whilst doing the dishes tonight.......but the Kingston trio's version (much funnier).......or maybe it was The Limelighters.

  6. Michael Flanders was quite erudite in both English and French. In French, "gout" is pronounced =goo.= In this song, Flanders is making fun of the dirty old man in the song by having him both misunderstand "gout" and give the word its English pronunciation of =gowt= (a painful excess of uric acid in the blood -- hence the character's wince of pain).

  7. I should think you're probably correct - after all, someone with a patronym of "Flanders" should be reasonably familiar with French.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...