American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Where’s That Back Pay!

with 3 comments

A little Christmas cheer for tough times, a Civil War poem by J. Ward Childs, of the 53rd Massachusetts Reg’t. Admittedly, the Christmas connection is very thin, but what the hay. Here’s the first stanza:

Boys, our back pay is a coming;
Nearly three months now is due;
And if Samuel don’t fork over,
We will put our Uncle through.
Yes, it’s coming: so is Christmas,
Which will get here first, I vow;
It is very hard to tell, boys,
But we’ll have it any how.

What I like best in the poem: the word “spondoolix,” an Americanism for money (derived from “greenbacks” according to Eric Partridge), which appears in the last stanza:

But, cheer up, boys, it’s coming,
Sure as rats it’s on the way;
Wont we have a time though, soldiers,
When we get hold of that back pay
The spondoolix must come down, boys,
That is all I’ve got to say;
For, that is what’s the matter, boys,
We must have that back pay.

For Christmas is coming, sure as rats. The spondoolix must come down, that is all I’ve got to say.

(The original broadside is reproduced below, thanks to America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets.)

Here’s the entry from Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English:

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Written by Ben Friedlander

December 24, 2009 at 9:58 am

3 Responses

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  1. Am I being obtuse? How does “spondoolix” come from “greenback”?

    Susan M. Schultz

    December 24, 2009 at 4:47 pm

  2. […] For Christmas is coming, sure as rats. The spondoolix must come down, that is all I’ve got to say. […]

  3. It may be a false derivation, Susan. According to Tony Dohr, it traces back to a Greek word. The OED says “fanciful formation.” Anyway, I’ll append the Partridge entry to the post.

    Ben Friedlander

    December 24, 2009 at 6:24 pm


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