In what might very loosely be considered a tribute to the continuing centenary of the Great War, I’ve been investigating a couple of examples of puzzling phraseology that have both been attributed to that era. First, that well-known American children’s song, “Do Your Ears Hang Low.” Some trace the lyrics back to soldiers’ songs of WWI, if not earlier, but I’ve personally yet to see a textual reference earlier than the 50s. Variants exist that refer to damn near every body part that could even conceivably be described as “hanging low”, but only the version used in 1969’s Easy Rider, “Does Your Hair Hang Low”, makes the least lick of sense to me. One’s hair can indeed hang low, and be tied in a knot – and what else is a Continental soldier going to wear over their shoulder, barring their pelisse or perhaps their sword-belt? Unless the armies of Europe have taken to exclusively recruiting Bodhisattvas, ears are unlikely, and the other usual suspects would be considered a gross violation of uniform. Alas, though, what documentation there is suggests that hair was a late contender, demonstrating the great irrationality, and tragic hairlessness, of things in general.
Secondly, I’ve long been fascinated and faintly puzzled by the popular catch-phrase “I get you, Steve.” I first came across this in Dorothy L. Sayers’ 1928 novel The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, where it’s used just as “I get you” would generally be used today – to intimate understanding of a given subject between casual acquaintances. The only question is Steve’s role in the whole affair. Planet Peschel, usually a good source for Sayers’ allusions, speculates that it might refer to a music-hall piece. Various other sources from across the decades suggest that the phrase might be Australian soldiers’ slang and/or a line from an American film. It shows up, with various spellings, at least as early as 1912, in the comic novel Officer 666 (which was, in fact, adapted into a wartime Australian film… which admittedly doesn’t help.) Whoever this Steve was, he seems distinct from the Steve of distinct catchphrase “Come on, Steve!”, which apparently refers to 1920s Derby winner Steve Donoghue – as the schoolboy said of Homer, not Steve, but another man of the same name.
Until further information comes to light, I think I have discovered as much about these phrases as I can without putting terribly much effort into it or being entirely bothered about the outcome. At the very least, there is no evidence that Steve’s hair does not, in fact, hang low.