Wednesday, July 11, 2007

hoolian/hoolihan



Mike from Glen Arbor, Michigan, waxed nostalgic about a song that he learned as a child: Old Paint. He also had a question: what’s a hoolihan?

Let’s back up and give the first four lines of the song.

I ride an old paint [variation: Old Paint as a proper name]
I lead an old dam [variation: Old Dan as a proper name]
I’m going to Montana
To throw a hoolihan. [variation: hoolian]

The Wordsworth Dictionary of the American West provides us with two vital definitions.
• paint: “A spotted horse, white with large areas of either black, brown, or red.”
• dam: In four-legged animals, the female parent. [AHD] Easily the most recognizable dam in literature is Grendel’s dam in Beowulf.
• hoolihan: “A quiet, no-fuss rope throw for catching horses in a crowded corral--one quick whirl, a flat noose, and a head catch.”

So our cowboy is riding a spotted horse, leading a trailing female horse (probably as a pack animal), and he’s bound for Montana where he’ll work with corralled horses.

As noted above, depending on who’s singing the song, paint and dam are sometimes transmuted into proper names.

And if I remember the melody well enough, I believe that Aaron Copeland used it in his ballet Rodeo, calling it “Saturday Night Waltz.”

SIDEBAR: the lyrics

SIDEBAR: Copeland’s “Saturday Night Waltz.”


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