“Yuba Dam,” Says I: History and Meaning of a Tradition of Humorous Poems and Songs


Stephen D. Winick (American Folklife Center)

In Montana, in 1979, Barre Toelken recorded the humorous song “Yuba Dam” for the American Folklife Center. The song’s humor stems from the vernacular pronunciation of the town name “Yuba Dam” being repeatedly mistaken for “you be damned,” leading to misfortunes for the narrator. The song is one in a long series of Yuba Dam poems, jokes, and ballads, all having a similar premise, which go back to 1850. This paper explores the history and meaning of Yuba Dam tales, especially the way in which they suggest that insider knowledge can be a blessing or, quite literally, a curse.

Part of 52-03 Jokes, Humor, and Tradition, Friday, October 22, 10:30 am–12:00 pm