In Reply to: Knock on wood posted by ESC on July 31, 2009 at 16:10:
: : : I am trying to find the origin of when a person knocks five short raps on wood and someone else knocks twice in reply. This is known to us all and in many countries but I cant find out where it comes from. Please help
: : Shave and a haircut. Five cents.
: This says...Two bits. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shave_and_a_Haircut
The article in the Wikipedia (URL provided by ESC) is pretty thorough, but a shade misleading. Older Americans know the phrase as Shave and a haircut...Two bits. Only during the inflation following World War II did it jump to six bits, and that was because the barbers were charging more. But it was usually only for the haircut; the shave was as much as four bits extra.
The article goes out on a limb by saying the little ditty is the world's shortest complete song. It may be true, but it's a bold assertion. The article also implies a connection between the rhythm of the little phrase and that of the Charleston dance of the twneties. Very doubtful, in my opinion.
The article lists many examples of other words being used. I have one to offer, popular in my rural hometown a long time ago. (DIRT ALERT!)
The boys in town (and I think also Boy Scouts in camp) used to sing a song to the tune of the Arkansas Traveller (as it was then spelled).
Oh, I had a little chick,
And she had a wooden leg,
And I poured hot water up and down her leg,
And the little chick cried,
And the little chick begged,
And the little chick laid me a hard-boiled egg.
This was followed by the line:
Pa's got a hard-on . . . where's Ma?