Hispanics and "shave and a haircut"

I’ve always heard that you should never use a “shave and a haircut” (“dum-de-de-dum-dum . . . dum-dum”) knock around Hispanics, because they find it to be extremely offensive.

I’m wondering … why? What’s so offensive about the sequence of knocks or tones that would be considered so rude among Hispanics? I know that it is rude, but why?

Is it really? I had often heard that the rhythm was too close to “Ching-a tu puta, Madre.” (F— your whore mother.)

I’d also assumed it was an urban legend. What’s the deal with that, anyway?

May I ask why this is called a “shave and a haircut” knock? OK, I suppose the rhythm sounds like the word in that phrase, but I’ve never heard that expression used before. (And what do the last two knocks represent?)

“Shave and a haircut, two bits”

Further to that, it was a standard barbershop quartet, um, libretto, before it became the “secret knock” of unimaginative people worldwide.

As a native of South Texas in a city with over 50% Hispanics–one of whom I’m marrying next year–I’ve never heard of such a thing. Neither has Mr. Levins, who would know.

Methinks somebody in Kansas is pulling your leg, elmwood.


Apparently it’s offensive in some areas, not all.

Originally posted by bibliophage: http://www.sfs.nphil.uni-tuebingen.de/linguist/issues/9/9-221.html


Yeah, I participated in that thread. I heard that the cadence means “chinga tu madre, cabron!”, but … why? How did it come to be connected with that? You could turn any little ditty into comething offensive, if you used the same logic. Why wouldn’t Anglos find the knock offensive because the cadence is similar to that of “I fucked your mother … asshole!”?

It is very, very, common to hear this cadence on car horns here in Panama. It expresses extreme annoyance. The cadence is similar, but not identical to, the one known as “shave and a hair-cut” in Anglo culture. It has the same number of notes, but the intervals between them are somewhat different. I have heard the same, that it expresses an extreme obscenity in Spanish, but I can’t vouch for exactly what that is specifically. The ones mentioned previously sound like likely candidates.

Audrey Levins, I guarantee it’s authentic and widespread in latino cultures.

California born and raised but never the less a Hispanic, I have never heard it was rude to use the cadence mentioned in the OP.
Inferring that one’s mamma is a puta, however, is considered annoying to the extreme.

Wow. I had no idea and I’ve been in Southern California for 15 years with lots of Latino friends, and my Spanish is pretty good.

Sheesh what you learn around here. :slight_smile:



God, I’m going to regret posting this, but I was raised in Puerto Rico and know the answer.

The “shave and a haircut” knock (no one there calls it that BTW) is offensive to Hispanic males because it means that you are calling the person at who you’re directing the sound a homosexual. As far as I know, it started with little boys doing it to taunt other boys in school, then adults found out what it meant and, voila! A harmless rythym became an obscenity. It’s been a very long time since I heard it, so I don’t remember exactly what words the knocks are supposed to stand for, but the general meaning is something like “spread your ass” or “give me your ass,” basically some solicitation for sodomy. To the mother in the story posted by rowrrbazzle, it was the equivalent of someone showing up at her front door and yelling to her son “Hey, faggot!”. He was very lucky the boy’s father wasn’t home.

I know this sounds incredibly stupid, but there are some very quirky aspects of latin cultures that non-latinos don’t know about, at least in Puerto Rico, anyway. For example, Puerto Ricans believe that if you see a dog about to defecate, by locking your pinky finger around someone else’s, you make it impossible for the dog to go. A friend of mine in Puerto Rico taught me this when I was nine years old and I was amazed to hear a 35 year old Puerto Rican woman, born and raised in New York, mention it years later when I was in my mid-twenties living in Florida. God only knows how things like that spread so far, but somehow, they do. Every time I explain this to non-Hispanics, the first comment is “Couldn’t you people have invented a more useful mind power?” I wish.

Ready for the eerie part? I did this a handful of times with friends and it worked every time.

Really, it depends where you’re at. In the part of Mexico where my wife’s from, it’s (as said above), “Chinga tu madre, cabron.” That’s not nice.

But there are cultures where belching after eat is complimentary, so YMMV.

The world is indeed a small place.

My dad was raised in Slovakia during the 1930s and they did the same “dog-cant-go trick”.
Slight difference was you could do it yourself by interlocking pointer fingers (not pinkies).

And it does work - we went to see his hometown and we saw a dog in a park. My brother and I looked at each other and did the
gesture and the poor dog ran off!

When I was growing up in a small, homophobic town in Texas, that knock was known as a “queer call,” at least the first part of it. One little snot-nosed kid would tap out the “shave and a haircut” part, and whoever replied with two knocks was supposedly identified as a homosexual. This provided inexplicable mirth for the original knocker, and consternation for the replier, who invariably wore thick glasses and high-water pants. I was never aware of any Latino connection.

Incidentally, I’ve also heard songs that ended with those lyrics, but adjusted for inflation: Shave and a haircut, six bits. Of course, seventy-five cents is a pretty good price.

The thing about locked fingers preventing a dog from defecating is truly baffling to me. I can’t imagine it working, unless the locked fingers were inserted into the dog’s plumbing, and I know of no self-respecting dog that would sit still for that. Anyway, it seems to me that it would have a constipating effect on the animal.

No, he’s right. I can tell you for sure that I was extremely annoyed when I finally put it all together.

Since when is there one “Hispanic” culture? It my not be offensive in California, San Antonio and Panama - and it may mean something completely different in Puerto Rico. But in central Mexico, it means some variation of “Chinga tu puta madre.” And you don’t want to knock on someone’s door with that.

Colibri, what is “Anglo culture”? As a Celtic, I’m just curious. :wink:

First: my = may

Second: Colibri, I see that you were agreeing that it probably was an obscenity. Sorry I didn’t read more closely.

This sounds familiar here in Michigan. On the other hand I was stationed in Texas two years, so maybe I’d heard it there. It just seems like something we may have done in my youth. Not homophobia, just kids laughing at gays not really knowing what it was.