Please explain "The Lady Is a Tramp"

I’m sure many of you have heard the American standard “The Lady Is a Tramp” – I’m most familiar with Frank Sinatra’s recording(s) of it.

Anyway, the song purports to list traits of a particular woman and then conclude that she is a “tramp.” For example, one verse says –

She gets too hungry for dinner at eight.
She loves the theater but never comes late.
She doesn’t bother with people she hates.
That’s why the lady is a tramp.

I don’t understand what the speaker is trying to say. The traits listed in the song might variously be described as admirable or peculiar, or for the most part neutral. The speaker, however, seems to be expressing appreciation for the woman.

However, he then repeatedly concludes that she “is a tramp.” I don’t understand what he’s trying to say here. The two main meanings of the word “tramp” I am aware of are a homeless/street person or beggar and as a slang word for a sexually promiscuous woman.

First, I don’t get why, if he appreciates this woman, why he then concludes she’s a “tramp.” Second, I don’t get how any of the traits listed might reflect on her promiscuity one way or another.

She’s honest and unpretentious, so people who are pretentious dislike her, as is the way of things. And the characteristic way in which people tend to express their disapproval of females they dislike is by impugning their sexuality, thus, “she’s a tramp”. Just because they don’t like her, she’s a “tramp”. She may actually be sexually chaste, but “they” don’t care–they label her a “tramp”.

I’ve encountered this in real life. Nowadays they use the word “slut”, but the mechanism is the same.

“Oh–her…she’s such a slut…”

Is this working for you?

The literary device being used here of course is irony:

Of course the characteristics mentioned don’t indicate that “the lady is a tramp;” they only indicate that to pretentious or narrow-minded people. The singer means the opposite of what he is saying.

Sorry, I had meant to post this in Cafe Society.

Anyway, somehow I missed the irony. The song somehow doesn’t convey a sense of irony to me, especially the way Sinatra sings it.

See it in context Pal Joey

On reflection that won’t help. In the movie Sinatra is singing to a rich woman who used to be a stripper. In the original from Babes in Arms the first verse indicates the song was about hobo tramps not loose woman tramps:

I’ve wined and dined on Mulligan stew
And never wished for turkey
As I hitched and hiked and grifted, too,
From Maine to Albuquerque.
Alas, I missed the Beaux Arts Ball,
And what is twice as sad,
I was never at a party
Where they honored Noel Ca’ ad.
But social circles spin too fast for me.
My Hobohemia is the place to be.

I get too hungry for dinner at eight
I like the theater but never come late
I never bother with people I hate
That’s why the lady is a tramp
I don’t like crapgames with Barons and Earls
Won’t go to Harlem in ermine and pearls
Won’t dish the dirt with the rest of the girls
That’s why the lady is a tramp
I like the free fresh wind in my hair
Life without care
I’m broke, it’s oke
Hates California is cold and is damp
That’s why the lady is a tramp

Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers

So it isn’t really irony – she’s justifying her choice to be a tramp, literally.

I’ve always heard it differently. I’m more familiar with the Ella Fitzgerald version [maybe the sex of the singer makes a difference], and the lyrics are those in don’t ask’s post as opposed to the version in the OP.

The singer is contrasting herself with the lady:

I get too hungry for dinner at eight
I like the theater but never come late
I never bother with people I hate

The tramp doesn’t eat dinner until eight, goes to the theater but doesn’t bother to show up on time, and pretends to enjoy the company of people she really dislikes.

That’s why the lady is a tramp, because she does all of those things, unlike me. I’m a real, grounded individual, and the tramp is a pretentious, high society floozy.

Maybe, though, I just like Ell Fitzgerald too much to think she’d call herself a tramp. :slight_smile:

But to me don’t ask’s version of the lyrics make clear that the speaker is talking about herself. Don’t they?

You’ve got that backwards. The singer is the ‘tramp’. She can either be a Lady or a Tramp, and she’d rather be a Tramp than jump through hoops and change who she is and flat out lie to be a Lady.

This is the part I’ve never understood:

“Hate(s) California, it’s cold and it’s damp.”

Compared to what? California may be lots of things, but it’s hardly colder or damper than most of the rest of the United States.

Well, in part, your confusion comes from the fact that the lyrics are fouled up as is the gender of the singer. The song comes from the musical “Babes in Arms” and the singer is supposed to be a woman singing it about herself and the singer is saying (in essence) “That’s why they call me a tramp.”

There’s a rarely sung opening verse that makes it clear that she’s singing about herself and that, since she doesn’t like the snooty stuff (like bothering with people she hates), she (the singer) is called a tramp and she’s ok with that. It’s better than changing:

The opening verse goes:

*I’ve wined and dined on Mulligan Stew, and never wished for turkey
As I hitched and hiked and grifted too, from Maine to Albuquerque
Alas, I missed the Beaux Arts Ball, and what is twice as sad
I was never at a party where they honored Noel Cad (Coward)
But social circles spin too fast for me
My “hobo-hemia” is the place to be

Note also, the play on “Tramp=hobo/grifter”, vs “tramp=low class person”. :stuck_out_tongue: Lorenz Hart was a gawd.

Northern California, especially the San Francisco area, is colder and damper than many parts of the country.

Great thread, by the way. I’ve wondered about this song myself.

No, not literally…well mostly not. The character “Billie” isn’t a hobo as such in the musical, Hart was just making a pun. She’s a wanna-be actress who’s hitchhiked across the country to get to Hollywood where she’s sure she’ll be a big star. She meets up with Val, a philosophy student who’s parents are vaudvilleians and they’ve decided to send Val to a “work farm” while they go on the road (all the other unemployed kids are being sent there too) but the kids say that they can survive on their own by putting on a show to raise money so they won’t have to go and Billie gets caught up in it and is gonna be sent to the work farm too but …oh hell, the plot gets convoluted as only a '30s era screwball comedy musical can get. It is the origin of the “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show! We can use dad’s barn!” trope. (There’s also a subplot about a French aviator thrown in)

Just before the song, Val has punched out a racist during the show, causing it to fail. A party’s being thrown for the main characters before they get sent off to the and as Val goes off to get some punch, Billie wonders if she’ll ever fit in and considers going back on the road (she thinks it’s better than being sent to a “work farm” (I agree, btw)), and sings the song “The Lady Is A Tramp” but (IIRC) that’s just to finish her journey back to Hollywood, not as a lifestyle, like a hobo would–she’s just going back on the road to get from point “A” to point “B”.

Val hears her talking about this and says (something like ) “What, you’re gonna run out on us at a time like this?”

Billie replies (again, from memory) “Run out? What kinda girl do you think I am? I’ll stick it out! We’ll think of somethin’.”

Val replies (more or less) “You’re one of the good ones. The tramp is a lady”

Billie says something like “No, you’ve got that backwards…” and bursts into a reprise of “The Lady Is A Tramp”

*…folks went to London and left me behind
I missed the crowning, Queen Mary didn’t mind
Won’t play Scarlett in Gone with the "Wynde"
That’s why the lady is a tramp
I like to hang my hat where I please
Sail with the breeze
No dough! Hey-ho!
I still like Roosevelt, and think he’s a champ
That’s why the lady is a tramp *


Not if you think the song is about the singer trying to put down a high society lady by calling her a tramp.

I guess I always took the phrase “the lady is a tramp” too literally. Someone speaking in real life who says, “the lady” is most likely talking about a third party, not themselves. I think the lyric should be: “that’s why this lady is a tramp.”

Though in the context of the musical [thanks Fenris], especially with the lead in “The tramp is a lady” from another character, it is obvious the singer is referring to herself.