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About the song Silver Dollar,
men, women, fish, boats,
buses and vans...

dollar1.gif (4765 bytes)

The song Silver Dollar, written in 1907 or earlier, includes words which prefigure the woman/man/fish/bicycle saying. That saying is a perfect rejoinder to the song's message, even though the author of the saying, Irina Dunn, was not aware of the song. As she states:

I have never come across the rhyme you forwarded, obviously written by a man! It's fun, although I'm not sure how it scans. Perhaps it's better sung.

See the Herstory Page for more information about Dunn's authorship.

Silver Dollar is mentioned on a Web site belonging to Ralph Butts. He has provided the following information:

It's fairly recent if you're a dodo or a passenger pigeon - it was recorded as early as 1907 (Victor). The Billy Murray recording (Victor) was in 1908.

The song has been much tampered with - Girl Scouts, labor groups, you name it - have all put their own slant on this one.

I can't vouch for the fact that these are the original lyrics. It's also been attributed to Jack Palmer and Clarke Van Ness, but I'm guessing that is a later arrangement.

Regards.........Tiger

Here are the lyrics of the song as transcribed by Ralph Butts from the 1908 Billy Murray recording. No fish is mentioned -- yet -- in this version. The important wording is highlighted in red:

A Man Without A Woman (Silver Dollar)

- Billy Murray
Written by Alfred Williams, ca. 1907

A man without a woman is like a ship without a sail,
Is like a boat without a rudder, a kite without a tail.
A man without a woman is like a wreck upon the sand,
And if there's one thing worse, in this universe,
It's a woman, I said, a woman, it's a woman without a man!

    Now you can roll a silver dollar 'cross the bar-room floor,
    And it'll roll, 'cause it's round.
    A woman never knows what a good man she's got,
    Until she puts him down!

    So listen, my honey, listen to me,
    I want you to understand,
    Just like a silver dollar goes from hand to hand,
    A woman goes from man to man.
        (Without a doubt).
    A woman goes from man to man.

The Palmer/van Ness version, dubiously copyrighted in 1939, introduces the fish. Note that the wording, "A man without a woman...a woman without a man". is like that of the "button" version of the saying, rather than the version Dunn confirms as her own (see Herstory page). Maybe the button manufacturer had heard the song?:

Silver Dollar

By Jack Palmer and Clarke van Ness
Copyright 1939 by Rialto Music Publishing Corp., New York
Copyright Assigned 1950 to Hampshire Music, Inc.

A man without a woman is like a ship without a sail,
A boat without a rudder or a fish without a tail,
A man without a woman is like a wreck upon the sand,
There's only one thing worse in the universe
That's a woman without a man.
A woman without a man.

    You can throw a silver dollar down upon the ground,
    And it will roll, because it's round.
    A woman never knows what a good man she's got,
    Until she turns him down,

    So listen, my honey, listen to me
    I want you to understand
    That as a SILVER DOLLAR goes from hand to hand
    A woman goes from man to man,
    A woman goes from man to man.

A kite without a tail is incomplete and won't fly, but that situation can be remedied; a fish without a tail is rather gruesome to contemplate: its tail has probably just been eaten by a larger fish.

The kite simile is more nuanced and poetic than the fish simile, and I speculate that the substitution of the word "fish" was folk-process alteration of the original to make it more consistent with the water-related similes of the ship, boat and wreck. Or perhaps the alteration was one of a number of minor differences whose purpose was to strengthen the case for a new copyright on borrowed material. (Some differences are, however, probably due to Billy Murray's embellishing the song as he performed it in his 1908 recording.)

Here's another version of the song lyrics, from the Web site of the Taibach RFC rugby club (Wales, U.K.). Try to imagine a busload of bruised and scraped but happy Welsh rugby players singing this song on the way home from a game. It appears that rugby players have appropriated the man, woman and fish paradigm, if not the bicycle -- but that's understandable, the rugby players' sport is rugby, not bicycling, and they do believe that a woman needs a man, or they wouldn't sing this song.

Roll A Silver Dollar

Roller, roller, roller, roller,

You can roll a silver dollar, down along the ground,
and it will roll, because its round
A woman doesn't know what a good man she's got,
until she puts him down, down down, down,

Listen, my honey, listen to me, I want you to understand,
That like a silver dollar goes from hand to hand,
so a woman goes from hand to hand,

Because a man without a woman,
Is like a ship without a sail,
he's like a boat without a rudder
is like a fish without a tail,

I say a man without a woman is like a wreck upon the shore
But if there's one thing worse in this universe it's a woman,
oh yes a woman, I said a woman without a man.

A woman without a man is the worst thing in the universe, so says a busload of rugby players. For them, the song which predated the fish/bicycle saying now may serve as a rejoinder to it.

And while we're discussing buses, let's also mention vans...


A woman without a van...
is like a fish without a tailgate?

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Contents 2002 John S. Allen
Except for quoted items, fair use.