For a couple of weeks ago, I asked you a question about the expression “new fangled”, and got great responses which at last made me understand the agony of Robert Plant in the song Since I’ve Been Loving You.
Sorry, but this ecouraged me, and I would very much appreciate if you’d show me the same generosity concerning another expression which bothered me for fifteen years or so; as a matter of fact, since I first heard Rainbow’s Sixteenth Century Greensleeves.
Since then I’ve sort of grow up, and began listening to Leonard Cohen, and he has got a song called “Leaving Green Sleeves”, and now I got quite puzzled. This Greensleeves-thing isn’t explained in my dictionaries.
So, fellas, what do Dio and Cohen mean? (And this may be the first time in history these two guys appear in the same sentence.) What is this greensleeves thing which seems to be of some importance?
Okay, I should know better than to post quickly on stuff like this. I should have said, “Greensleeves is an old euphemism for a prostitute.” In the song, he’s actually calling her names because she’s rejecting him, while at the same time continuing to profess his love. He is claiming that if she can’t love him, she must be having a lot of sex with other men instead.
The relevent passage is fairly far down the page, and says, “It is widely acknowledged that Lady Green Sleeves was at the very least a promiscuous young woman and perhaps a prostitute. The reference to the color of her sleeves indicates the grass stains from a recent rendezvous with a suitor.”
How could anybody not know of this tune? Do you not recall when telephone switchboards offered only “holding” music played on electronic chimes, and all switchboards offered either “Home on the Range” or “Greensleeves”, endlessly repeated? It was many years before the technology to offer any other tune was developed.
That is why music lovers everywhere reach for their revolvers whenever “Greensleeves” is played.
But the only evidence that ‘greensleeves’ was ever a euphemism for ‘prostitute’ is this particular interpretation of the lyrics. True, the word was sometimes used as a term for an inconstant female lover, but only later and as an allusion to the song.
Moreover, it is probably a mistake to assume that the lyrics have a single meaning. Strictly speaking, all the original version says is that the woman had allowed him to make great efforts to court her, only for her to reject him. Her offence is inconstancy, which need not be the same thing at all as promiscuity. But, as listeners or readers, we are always free to read between the lines and, in this particular case, may well have been expected to do so. The woman might be a prostitute/courtesan/mistress, but if she is, it is only in our dirty little minds.
But the nice thing about it is that 90% of songs you don’t know the melody to can be sung to the tune of “Greensleeves.” So if you’re reading a book and the author puts in the lyrics to a song, the “Greensleeves” melody will usually do the trick.
There’s another traditional that covers the other 10%, but I don’t remember which one it is.
And have you ever noticed how many jilted or frustrated guys to this day refer to their failed conquest as a “slut”? Never made sense to me. Umm, dude? If she was a slut, she would have slept with you! [/hijack]