knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

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knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

Post by Archived Topic » Mon Jun 28, 2004 3:51 am

I believe I've exhausted all other sources. I turn to you. What is the origin of the universally known rhythmic pattern generally referred to as "shave and a haircut, two bits," or "two bob" if you're in the UK? The only speculation I've found says it's the Morse Code pattern for the word "Hi." No, it's not, unless you translate the pause between the H (....) and the I (..) into a "dah." On the other hand, about the only thing wars are good for is creating new slang words, spreading slang words from one culture to another, and perhaps spreading around something like "shave and a haircut." A Morse Code "Kilroy was here"?
Thanks for any help that's forthcoming.
Submitted by Linda Nevin (San Diego, CA - U.S.A.)
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knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 4:05 am

There are two of them. Which one are you talking about?
The popular one that goes: Dah, Dih Dih, Dah Dah. Dih Dah?
Or, the one that goes: Dah. Dih Dih. Dah Dah?

(I take it you're asking about the rhythm, not the words? Should you be checking out a different site?)

don't know The answer to either, but will dare to share what little imparted to me once in my study of music.
my music coach tells me that the second phrase was a standard percussion sequence that arose in the 40s, in particular when Latin music was coming into vogue. The drummer or the guy shaking the gourds would sound out that steady "Shave..Haircut..Two Bits" to keep dancers in step.
The first, more full phrase, "Shave and a Haircut...Two Bits", may have been engendered by an earlier tap dancing routine during the Vaudeville era.

don't know where this guy got his info, but it seemed plausible...and sufficient for me to keep the beat.
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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 4:20 am

Linda, Not sure what the anonymous respondent is talking about with that pattern of Dahs and Dihs given. The SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT that I’m familiar with comes from the familiar “barber’s” knock which is ‘tum ti ti tum tum (pause) tum tum.’ – used a lot in camp songs and for knocking on doors.

There is also the expression ‘shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits' rhythm which just refers to a simple basic uncomplicated beat, especially of such early rockers or pre-rockers (1950s) as Bo Diddley (note that in this sense the beat is nothing specific and isn’t necessarily the ‘barbers knock’ pattern quoted above).

I’ll fist look at dates to see what makes sense. The ‘barbers knock’ (see below) predates the tap dancing of vaudeville of the early decades of the 1900s, so that’s out.

Morse invented the American Morse Code and demonstrated a working system in 1836 and the historic message ‘What hath God wrought?’ was sent from Washington to Baltimore. The American Morse Code had some deficiencies and it used only dots and spaces whereas the International Morse Code as we know it today (using dots, dashes, and spaces) was adopted in 1851. This overlaps with the dates for the ‘barber’s knock’ so the Morse possibility cannot be eliminated by date.

Translating the standard ‘barber’s knock’ into dots and dashes gives:

‘dash dot dot dash dash (pause) dash dash’ with the only for-sure space before the last two dashes.
dash = T
dash dash = M
dash dot = N
dot dot = I
dot dash = A

dash dot dot = D
dot dash dash = W
dot dot dash = U
dash dot dot dash = X

Not sure what the four dots (dot dot dot dot ) for the ‘H’ in the original question refers to. The only thing that I could say for sure, is that the message ends in TT or M. But nothing simple and obvious jumps right out at me (maybe someone else sees something that I’m missing), but I tend to think that the Morse Code thing is probably bogus.
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Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang

SHAVE-AND-A-HAIRCUT noun [20th century] (originally U.S.): a sequence of knocks, tum-ti-ti-tum-tum, often as ‘shave-and-a-haircut – two bits,’ which has a final tum-tum (cf. BARBER’S KNOCK). [the echoic rhythm of the phrase]

––––––––––––––––––––––--------------------------------------

BARBER’S KNOCK noun [early-mid 19th century] a double-knock, the first hard, the second far softer (cf. SHAVE-AND-A-HAIRCUT)
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So after all this obfuscation, where did the original ‘barber’s knock’ come from (and thus the ‘shave-and-a-haircut) – who knows?
___________________

Ken G - July 30, 2002
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knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 4:34 am

??
you're all confused
dash dot dot dash dot dot dash
dah dih dih dah dih dih dah = /a

attention.
RREngineer, SC
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knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 4:49 am

Can anyone decode what old RR is talking about. The statement ‘you're all confused’ is wrought with ambiguity. ‘All’ could mean the original poster plus the two respondents, or it could mean just the two respondents, or it could mean that the last respondent was ‘completely’ confused , or . . . If I were grading this response I’d give it an “A’ for ambiguity and ‘F’ for clarity – and that’s only for the first sentence. The rest we’d have a conference on and discuss the possibilities of a career in cryptology (for the enemy).

If the reference was to my reply (we would also discuss that at the meeting) – that is, the ‘shave-and-a-haircut’ door knock, which I have always heard (and still use) and which is the same as the one referred to in the Cassell’s Dictionary (follow their tit tums to the final tum tum [dash dash]) – I would ask which one he/she is talking about plus the meaning of:

/a
attention

Note: possibly Morse Code lingo has evolved since I got my scouting merit badge 50 years ago or is this a demonstration of RR’s secret scrambling skills – RR think Standard English would be preferable under these circumstances!
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Ken G - July 31, 2002
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knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 5:03 am

Thanks for the contributions so far. In addition to the regular alphabet and numbers in code, there are special combinations that are shorthand for longer phrases or are message markers (e.g., "Ignore that last letter; I made a mistake" -- that type of thing). Perhaps that -..-..- pattern is a marker that means "What follows is important" or marks the beginning of a message.

People who send and receive code apparently hear them as much in rhythm patterns as they do a strict translation of dots and dashes -- they recognize common phrases by their rhythms alone. If the "shave and a haircut" pattern does mean "attention," that would explain why it was commonly known and why some communications guy might knock on another communications guy's door with that code pattern, say, in an army camp or in some wartime setting.

Besides, why would a barber need a special door-knock?
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knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 5:17 am

Linda. On your final point, then why does the expression ‘barber’s knock’ even exist and why does Cassell’s further volunteer that it came into existence in the early 1800s? Of course, we’ve seen stranger things than this. Perhaps, only the Shadow knows.
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Ken - July 31, 2002
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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 5:32 am

Bill Mauldin refers to the pattern of US heavy machine gun fire as "shave and a haircut two bits" and the German response as a humorous "brrrrrp" in "Up Front."

(shay, colfax).
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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 5:46 am

Linda, Progress is being made (maybe). I did find what the ‘shave and a haircut’ meant to 19th century telegraphers. The website (http://64.132.75.30:8873/DotCode.htm ) for Civil War telegraph buff’s had the answer. The alphabet, abbreviations, and operating procedures used for the Civil War U.S. Military Dot Code [note: they didn’t use Morse Code – see below] are shown. Under ‘procedures’ was listed:
Sign Off & Close Station - "SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT" [not clear if it contained the additional ‘two bits’ – which would be two more dashes, or whatever]
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The story on Dot Code is as follows:

What was called ‘Signal Flag, Two Element Code’ was converted for use with the telegraph in the mid 1800’s and is called the ‘Dot Code,’ which was used by the Army during the Civil War. Elements in this code consist of 1, 2 or 3 dots in quick succession. The one and two dot elements are the only ones used for letters of the alphabet, and the three dot element is only used to indicate the end of a sentence (‘33’) and end of the message (‘333’). The number ‘1’ is simple one ‘dot’ or ‘dih’ or ‘dit.’ The ‘2’ is two dots and the ‘3’ is three dots and the all letters are arbitrary combinations of 1s and 2s [e.g. A = 11, B = 1221, C = 212, etc.]
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The website http://www.gcn.com/archives/gcn/1998/September21/60.htm gives some background on how this Dot Code came about and also provides a little history on Civil War telegraphy:

“Technology in 1860 meant wires in trees: . . . the Defense Department was the War Department, the telegraph was the cutting edge of military networking, delivering timely information to soldiers. . . Communications during battles were supplemented on the field by signalers with flags, helping to coordinate movements of the armies. . . The telegraph first did military service in the Crimean War, from 1853 to 1856, where American observer George B. McClellan saw it in operation. McClellan, while commanding the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, created the Signal Corps. . . [whose] greatest innovation . . . was perhaps the development of insulated twisted copper wire that, unlike conventional bare steel wire of the period, could be laced through trees or draped over fences to provide tactical communications across a battlefield. . . The military telegraphs did not use Morse Code. . . Army Dot Code was an electronic adaptation of the binary language already in use with flags. . . . In flag signalling, much like ASCII code today, each letter is represented by a series of 1s and 2s. The letter ‘B,’ for instance, is 1221. When using flags, a ‘1’ is signalled by moving the flag from an upright position down to the signaler's left. A ‘2’ is made by moving the flag down to the right. In Army Dot Code, dots and spaces are substituted for 1s and 2s. . . . Both armies [also] used flags for signalling throughout the Civil War. They were simpler than telegraphs, but operated only in a line of sight. And if a signaler's own troops could see him, so could the enemy. . . ”
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So, looks like the ‘shave and a haircut’ was used by Civil War telegraphers when they were signing off and closing down (e.g. end of the day, move to a new location, . . .). But it seems that they wouldn’t have just pulled the expression out of thin air, especially since ‘shave and a haircut’ ain’t exactly your standard farewell-appropriate expression. I think it is reasonable to assume that they were just adopting a pre-existing familiar pattern along with the phrase that came with it – ‘shave and a haircut.’ Also looks like Cassell’s was incorrect in saying that ‘shave and a haircut’ originated in the 20th century (if indeed this website is right – which it may not be!), but agrees pretty well with its cf. ‘barber’s knock’ which Cassell’s said originated in the early to mid 19th century. It could be that the above Civil War buffs were using the two expressions as synonymous when actually the ‘shave and a haircut’ was an anachronism – Just because they are buffs doesn’t mean they couldn’t have blown this fine point. But if you look at the above web page you would sure think that they basically copied it directly from a Civil War Army manual – but who knows?
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Still unexplained, however is, if there are no dashes in the Dot Code, what did they do to produce the infamous ‘knock.’

The answer is that they were perfectly capable of sending dashes – just that the military had decided not to use them as part of this coding system so that there would never be any question of ambiguity about whether a particular ‘dah’ was actually only a longish ‘dih’ – so to send the ‘knock’ directly in dot and dash form was no problem. And this ‘sign off’ signal had nothing at all to do with the code alphabet, which I wrongly assumed was in Morse, no less, when I was raving on this in my earlier response. And by the bye, after checking a number of sources, on exactly what the ‘barber’s knock’ is (we all know, in general, what it is – at least I know mine), I am now of the opinion that it is a matter of opinion – thus, the varying views expressed above in this posting.
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Although I have cleared up some stuff, I guess some big loose ends still live: 1) Where did ‘shave and a haircut’[Cassell’s says 20th century in direct conflict with Dot Code findings] come from? 2) Does ‘barber’s knock’ [Cassell’s says early to mid 19th century] actually mean the same thing [see note below] and when were these phrases really born? 3) If ‘2’ is in the affirmative (and they were synonymous), then why did Army telegraph folks use this particular ‘phrase,’ which sounds more like an entrance than an exit? – maybe they just liked the tune and the words were [for] free!
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Note: Cassell’s use of ‘cf.’ (and that usage in general) is a bit ambiguous to me. Strictly speaking , I believe that a ‘cf.’ is a suggestion to ‘compare,’ and not a statement that the word(s) which follow(s) is/are synonyms. So I guess it is unclear to me, when to assume a word is actually a synonym and when ‘cf.’ is just saying ‘hey look under this word and you’ll find some interesting related material.’ I have never given this matter much thought before, but in checking through a few of my dictionaries it looks to me like it always means compare, but doesn’t always mean synonym. And I guess the reason I never gave this subject too much, though, is that most of the time it is self-evident what is meant. Now in our example this distinction is critical. If ‘cf.’ only means ‘look and compare,’ which it is beginning to look to me like it does, then it is saying that ‘barbers knock’ is an earlier expression which is (see my previous posting): a ‘double-knock’ the first hard the second far softer (cf. ‘shave-and-a-haircut’). I had assumed that when they said ‘double-knock,’ it could mean two parts to a knock with each part having sub-parts as ‘shave-and-a-haircut does.’ Now Cassell’s ‘shave-and-a-haircut definition (see above posting) says it is 20th century, goes into the familiar tum-ti-ti-tum-tum rhythm thing with its final tum-tum, and then the cf. ‘barber’s knock.’ So that could mean that the two were quite different animals. The ‘barber’ knock has a hard first section (which may or may not have subsections) and the second part is SOFTER [according to Cassell’s] (also may or may not have subsections). This could imply that the ‘barbers knock’ is the superset (or larger class) and that ‘shave-and-a-haircut’ is only one, of possibly many, of its subsets.

So, exactly what is meant by ‘cf.’ is critically important here and I am now tending toward the literal translation which does not necessarily imply ‘synonym.’ [would appreciate comments from those who know more about the use of ‘cf.’]. All I could find was the one word ‘compare’ in all the sources that I consulted – and perhaps that is exactly all it implies. My question then is, why say ‘cf.’ in cases where the word is clearly a synonym (which is sometimes done, especially in Cassell’s) or is this just a form of laziness when an author doesn’t want to go through the bother of distinguishing between the two?
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Next to lastly (‘lastly’ follows below), here’s one of my ‘shave-and-a-haircut’ theories. In my earlier posting, I said that this pattern was used a lot in camp songs. I said that because I had heard it myself when I was in camp in the 40s and 50s and ditto for my son when he was in camp in the 80s and 90s. Could it be that this whole damn thing actually first existed as a children’s rhyme or song?

From a Google-found camping website:

CAMP RENA - Free Tips For Leaders ‘Shave And A Haircut, Two Bits': Loudly sing out this classic melody (famous as a rhythm for knocking on doors) "Bom-Da-Da-Da-Da...." Then let your group finish it with two hand claps. Keep repeating until everyone is involved.
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I hesitate to record the following, but I will anyway. Here is a song I learned in YMCA day camp – 1947 (what was a good Jewish boy like me doing in a Christian day camp? – it’s a long story):

Well, I walked into a bakery shop to get something to eat
Because I was so hungry from my head to my feet
So I picks up a doughnut and I wipes off the grease [doughnuts invented ~1800]
And I hands the waitress a five cent piece. [~ price in about 1930]
Well, she looks at the nickel and she looks at me
And she says hey mister can’t you plainly see
There’s a hole in the nickel
There’s a hole right through
Says I, there’s a hole in the doughnut too,
Shave and a haircut, two bits
You said a mouthful – Shut up!
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This children’s rhyme was obviously not the source of the ‘beat’ or its accompanying expression, which is just tacked onto the end, but it seems not unlikely to me that some earlier one was. Maybe it started as the 'barber’s song' or 'barber’s rhyme,' which was usually accompanied by a participants tapping or ‘knocking’ out the beat’ – VOILA!
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Lastly, I got to thinking about the idea of ‘shave-and-a haircut’ being a subset of the earlier definition of ‘barber’s knock’ (if that chronology is indeed as Cassell’s has it). So, I did some checking on early meanings of the word ‘barber’ and came up with something at least interesting, if not ‘the answer’:

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang

BARBER noun [early 19th century and still in use] (Canada/U.S.) a bitterly cold wind. [it appears to cut one’s exposed face] [[ hmm!!]]
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With a slight loss of respect for Cassell’s over this ‘cf.’ confusion, I looked for another reliable source.

Dictionary of American Regional English

BARBER noun: A winter storm in which frozen ice crystals are driven by fierce winds. <1832, British American by McGregor 1.133, [Footnote:] the keen north-west wind, during winter, is often called the ‘barber’ in America> <1889 Americanism by Farmer (1971) . . . the Canadian voyageurs call it the ‘barber’ as it cuts the face like a razor.>
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So, is it possible that the original “barber’s knock’ was the effect of a cold winter wind flapping or knocking (hard then soft – can hear it now – but then again I’ve got a pretty wild imagination) a loose board, tool, or shutter, or the like against the side of a house, shed, or barn (as we so often see, and hear – for dramatic effect – in old and new movie scenes)? Also, how often are noises or tappings mistaken for being of human origin (e.g. Poe’s ‘The Raven,’. . .).
______________________

Ken G - July 31, 2002
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knocking pattern (shave/haircut/two bits)

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 6:15 am

Zowie, Ken! I'm breathless. "Thanks" hardly seems adequate. But -- thanks!
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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 6:29 am

there is actually a rhyme that goes with "a shave and a haircut." it is as follows:

A Shave and a Haircut, two bits
Who is the barber, Tom Micks
Who did he marry, Snow White
How are you feeling, alright

This rhyme really makes no sense to me but my grandmother taught it to me shortly before she passed away so I never forgot it. It's a cute rhyme and sounds good if you say it right. We used to say it when there was nothing else to say and the room was quiet. If you know the meaning of it, then more power to you. I would like to know the meaning of it. If anyone figures it out, could you email me and let me know. radera@shawnee.edu. thank you
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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 6:44 am

Shows that AOL respondents have more time than brains. R
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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 6:58 am

AFTER READING ALL OF THIS NOBODY HAS GIVEN THE ORIGIN OF THE 2-BITS EXPRESSIONS. I REALLY DON'T CARE ABOUT THE BARBERS.

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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 7:13 am

I'm gonna' go out on a limb here and suggest that the question has nothing to do with (A) Morse Code or (B) Barbers or (C) Dance beats from the 40s/50s. I would suggest that if people are using it as a chant in a band in the 40s/50s then probably it was because it was ALREADY popular from some other source. Ibid Morse Code.

The question is: where did the expression "Shave and a haircut: Two Bits" come from?

Focus, people!

For that matter, what's a "Bit?"
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Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 28, 2004 7:27 am

Because America's First Silver Dollar was often cut into eight pie shaped "bits" in order to make change, the intact coin became known as a "Piece of Eight." Since the entire Piece of Eight had a value of 8 Reales, each bit was valued at one eighth of the total. Two bits equaled a quarter, four bits a half dollar and six bits three quarters of a dollar. Source: Ask.com
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