Caterpickles thinks too much about Christmas carols: “What’s a bobtail?”

Last week, my daughter’s choir performed at her Lower School Assembly. Naturally, Daddyo and I went. The price of enjoying our daughter’s warbling came at the very end of the assembly when we were all invited to join the holiday carol sing-a-long.

There’s nothing like seeing the lyrics of traditional holiday songs projected in giant letters on a screen in a school auditorium for making you realize just how weird they are.

I mean, there I stood, trilling merrily about jingle bells and sleigh rides when all of a sudden I realized that I had absolutely no idea what bells on bobtails ring actually meant.

Clearly, not this.

bellsonbobtailrevised

canelocozytaketwo

Yes, there really is such a thing as the American Bobtail Cat. But luckily for Canelo, the lyrics of Jingle Bells have nothing to do with cats, bedecked with bells or otherwise.

Bells on bobtails actually means the second thing you thought of when you heard it.

Daddyo, curiously: “Bells on a semi that’s not pulling a container?”

Who knew these were called bobtails? (Photo via Urban Insurance Agency)

Who knew these were called bobtail trucks? (Photo via Urban Insurance Agency)

Ok, make that the third thing you thought of.

The Nine-Year-Old, helpfully: “Bells on the tail of a horse named Bob?”

Closer. Although the name of the horse doesn’t really matter.

Horses who pull sleighs and carriages often have their tails cut short (bobbed) or doubled up into a bun, hence the term bobtail. Horse-drawn sleighs make almost no noise in the snow, so when James Lord Pierpont first wrote Jingle Bells in 1857, it was a common safety practice to string bells in the horse’s tail which would jingle as the horse jogged along. The tempo of Pierpont’s song mimics the sound of those long-forgotten bobtail bells.

Horse with a bobbed tail pulling a sleigh in winter. (Photo via Weiner Elementary)

Horse with a bobbed tail pulling a sleigh in winter. (Photo via Weiner Elementary)

Tune in next week when we explore what it means to Troll the ancient Yuletide carol.

Photo (minus words) via Maritravel on Pixabay.

Photo (minus words) via Maritravel on Pixabay.

Um, no.

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About Shala Howell

Writer of things ranging from optical network switching white papers to genetic testing patient education materials to historical fiction set in an 1880s asylum. When I’m not scratching my head over pesky characters who refuse to do things how I want them done or dreaming of my next book (which will of course be much easier to write than the current one), my writerly self can be found blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, or musing about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.wordpress.com.
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2 Responses to Caterpickles thinks too much about Christmas carols: “What’s a bobtail?”

  1. rayworth1973 says:

    A bobtail was a tow truck we used to haul AGE equipment around on the flightline in the Air Force. By the way, AGE is Aerospace Ground Equipment. It’s all that stuff you see at the airport that they use to work on the planes…well usually.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Caterpickles thinks too much about Christmas carols: “How do you troll an ancient Yuletide carol?” | CATERPICKLES

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