Why do they say “Blow the man down?”

I’ll sing you a song, a good song of the sea
Way – hey, blow the man down.
I trust that you’ll join in the chorus with me;
Give me some time to blow the man down

Chorus
Blow the man down, bully, blow the man down;
Way – hey, blow the man down.
Blow the man down, boys, from Liverpool town;
Give me some time to blow the man down.

As I was a-walking down Paradise street –
Way – hey, blow the man down.
A handsome young damsel I happened to meet –
Give me some time to blow the man down.

At the pub down on Lime street I then went astray –
Way – hey, blow the man down.
I drank enough stout for to fill Galway Bay –
Give me some time to blow the man down.

Chorus
Blow the man down, bully, blow the man down;
Way – hey, blow the man down.
Blow the man down, boys, from Liverpool town;
Give me some time to blow the man down.

The next I remember I woke in the dawn –
Way – hey, blow the man down.
On a tall Yankee clipper that was bound round Cape Horn.
Give me some time to blow the man down.

Come all ye young fellows who follow the sea –
Way – hey, blow the man down.
Beware of the drink whenever it’s free –
Give me some time to blow the man down.

Chorus
Blow the man down, bully, blow the man down;
Way – hey, blow the man down.
Blow the man down, boys, from Liverpool town;
Give me some time to blow the man down

This old sea shanty from the 1860s refers to a ship from the Black Ball line and seems to have been a work-related tune that was sung, or chanted, by sailors as they were hoisting topsail yards.

 Speculation as to what the words mean has no ending of explanations, some of them being:

“Blow:” to knock a man down or strike with a fist, belaying pin or capstan bar.

Mates in Western Ocean ships were termed “Blowers,” second mates as “strikers” and third mates as “greasers.”

“Blow:”  blowhard, full of wind, braggart, talltale, yarnspinner, liar, talk, hot air,                         “windbag man”

     Believed to have come from long hours of storytelling during off duty time

It has also been noted that the sailors created this song to cope with the unending abuse of captains. Sailors were often lured by pretty girls near the docks and then knocked out and kidnapped waking up out at sea and forced to work.  Some bosses reputations were so bad that no one would willingly go to work for them which caused the bosses to act in this way.

Mickey Finn was landlord of a quayside pub and in the pay of ship owners or captains. He would “spike” an unwary customer’s drink causing the customer to pass out. The poor soul would then be dragged away and on board by the ship’s crew. One term for this kind of kidnapping was to be “Shanghai-ed.”

Historians dispute the following possible meanings because of the era of the song, but they persist in folklore:

Older vessels had a tube communication system that ran from up on deck to “Down” below. The captain would first blow down the pipe for attention and then call out his directions to the man below decks.  “Blow the man down” would equal “Call him up.”

It is also alluded to mean “he was coming off his watch.”

Additionally, a boatswain’s call at the end of the day that work was completed and that the sailors could “go below.”  “Pipe down” was the last “pipe” of the day given at the beginning of silent hours. Except in emergencies, the next one was “Call the hands” followed by “up hammocks” to start a new day of work.

And one last note for the meaning of “Blow the man down” is that it meant to keep quite or ‘shut up and go to sleep’ being a command to shut up. Well that’s not very nice!

One thought on “Why do they say “Blow the man down?”

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