The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > Cafe Society

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 05-02-2002, 07:27 PM
RexKatWA RexKatWA is offline
Join Date: Nov 2000

In the old song "Moody River", the lyric goes "Moody river, more deadly than the vainest knife". What the heck does the word "vain" mean in this context? This was a popular song, at the time, but somehow this doesn't fit the dictionary definitions of the word:

vain Pronunciation Key (vn)
adj. vain·er, vain·est
Not yielding the desired outcome; fruitless: a vain attempt.
Lacking substance or worth: vain talk.
Excessively proud of one's appearance or accomplishments; conceited.
Archaic. Foolish.

Moody River

-Artist: Pat Boone from "Pat Boone's Greatest Hits"-MCA: MCAC 10085
-peak Billboard position # 1 in 1961
-Words and Music by Gary D. Bruce

(Moody river, moody river)

Moody river, more deadly than the vainest knife
Moody river, your muddy water took my baby's life

Last Saturday evenin' came to the old oak tree
It stands beside the river where you were to meet me
On the ground your glove I found
With a note addressed to me
It read "Dear love, I've done you wrong"
"Now I must set you free"
"No longer can I live with this hurt and this sin"
"I just couldn't tell you that guy was just a friend"


I looked into the muddy water and what could I see?
I saw a lonely, lonely face just lookin' back at me
Tears in his eyes and a prayer on his lips
And the glove of his lost love at his fingertips

Reply With Quote
Old 05-02-2002, 09:18 PM
socialxray socialxray is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
It seems to me that, in the context of the song, "vainest" is used to personify the knife (obviously). It could mean..a knife so "vain" as to feel it could kill anything. As opposed to..a knife with morals? Sounds a bit stupid, but then again this is a Pat Boone song we're talking about.

Although he did cover Dio's "Holy Diver." And how can you fault a man for that?
Reply With Quote
Old 05-02-2002, 09:44 PM
John Kentzel-Griffin John Kentzel-Griffin is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
Join Date: Nov 1999
Location: New York State of Mind
Posts: 3,299
I changed the title to something more descriptive than " and I'm moving this thread to Cafe Society.

DrMatrix - General Questions Moderator
Reply With Quote
Old 05-03-2002, 06:23 PM
RexKatWA RexKatWA is offline
Join Date: Nov 2000
Thanks. That's good. Anybody else?
Reply With Quote
Old 02-14-2012, 12:04 AM
carc90405 carc90405 is offline
Join Date: Feb 2012
Vainest knife

Moody River was written by Gary D Bruce and first recorded by him in 1961 using his performer name Chase Walker. His original words were "more deadly than the SHARPEST knife" but during the recording session the P in "sharPest" kept popping so rather than find a different mike, Gary (Chase) changed sharpest to "VAINEST" on the spot and probably very little if any thought went in to the meaning of vainest.
When Pat Boone recorded it a couple of months later Dot Records chief, Randy Wood checked to make sure the lyric was correct before releasing the record. Pat Boone says he had no idea what a "vainest knife" was and just sang the lyrics as written. Pat's Moody River topped the charts on June 17, 1961.

Read more:
Reply With Quote
Old 02-14-2012, 08:15 AM
Gary T Gary T is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 9,927
Thanks for providing that info, carc90405. I hadn't run into this thread back then, but I always wondered about that lyric. This song is in my repertoire, and I sometimes substitute "keenest" for "vainest," but even though it's literally correct it doesn't reflect most people's everyday speech. It didn't occur to me to use "sharpest," but now I'm thinking I'll do just that.

ETA: A little research shows that Bruce used the name Chase Webster rather than Chase Walker.

Last edited by Gary T; 02-14-2012 at 08:20 AM..
Reply With Quote
Old 03-27-2015, 07:50 AM
Vinnypan Vinnypan is offline
Join Date: Mar 2015
Perhaps the songwriter meant this...

Hello everyone!
I too enjoy the song "Moody River" since it played at the end of the movie "The Last Boy Scout" (1991) starring Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans.... I was about 13 years old when the movie came out and I was enthralled with its fast-paced action and witty comebacks. I have to admit that the song itself is not really relevent to how the movie ends, but I think they chose it for its melody and the "mood" it sets, pun intended! Plus, Bruce Willis' character in the movie is very old school...
Anyway, my opinion about the "vainest knife" is that the woman in the song who ultimately committed suicide by drowning herself in the "Moody River", was not able to accomplish this with a knife in a previous suicide attempt. She had probably tried to end her life by slitting her wrists, but her attempt was in vain, fruitless, like the definition. The original lyric "sharpest" knife pretty much meant the same thing, I believe, but I personally prefer "vainest", since the word not only sounds better in the song, but it explains the woman's desperation and feeling of guilt after her infidelity to her man.
Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:21 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2015, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to:

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to:

Copyright © 2015 Sun-Times Media, LLC.