Morning toe jam

This morning’s name was toe jam (aka toe-jam and toejam), a slang term for something that has no medical label that I can find. Some definitions:

‘material that collects between the toes’ (Wikipedia)

‘dirt which accumulates between the toes’ (OED2, with a first cite in only 1934)

‘the ‘gunk’ that accumulates between the toes’ (Huffington post article by a podiatrist)

My mind then took me immediately to the line

He wear no shoeshine, he got toe jam football

from the Beatles’ “Come Together” on their Abbey Lane album (1969).

What is it? From the Huffington podiatrist, Neal M. Blitz:

It is a combination of dead skin cells, sock debris, dirt, body oil residue, fungus and bacteria.

Unlike the bodily accumulations navel lint (which is mostly lint) and ear wax (which is mostly a kind of wax), toe jam has a name that is not even slightly subsective; toe jam is not any kind of jam, though it (vaguely) resembles jam.

Everyday and medical vocabulary. Like toe jam, navel lint (navel fluff, belly-button lint, etc.) seems to have no corresponding medical term, though ear wax corresponds to medical cerumen (posting here). For the stuff that accumulates in the corners of the eyes during sleep, there are a great many everyday names (sleepies, sleep-eye, duck butter, etc.), but apparently no medical one. For the stuff that accumulates under a man’s foreskin, there are a very small number of everyday terms, none widely used (cheese, dick cheese, duck butter again; for the sleep-eye / dick cheese connection, see my posting “Flowering pears and secretions” of 3/20/13) — but in this case the medical term, smegma, has been pressed into service as an everyday term.

On to the Beatles. Enough of bodily accumulations and secretions. Let’s come together with John, Paul, Ringo, and George. From Wikipedia:

“Come Together” is a song by the Beatles written by John Lennon but credited to Lennon–McCartney. The song is the opening track on the album Abbey Road and was released [in 1969] as a double A-sided single with “Something”


Here’s the track, with the words conveniently flashed on the screen:

The lyrics are in something approximating Vernacular Black English (aka AAVE), possibly as a tribute to blues great Muddy Waters (who is name-checked in them), but in any case they revel in surreal and nonsensical juxtapositions, as in toe jam football. (Compare Lennon’s writing in his books In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard in the Works (1965)). And then there are the verse-concluding lines, which tend to dissolve when you think about them, like the wonderful:

Got to be good-looking / ’cause he’s so hard to see

And of course the double entendre in

Come together / Over me

From the Beatles Bible site:

Come Together, the lead song on The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, was conceived by John Lennon as a political rallying cry for the writer, psychologist and pro-drugs activist Timothy Leary

in Leary’s campaign to stand against Ronald Reagan as governor of California — a campaign that was derailed when Leary was jailed for pot possession, at which point Lennon altered the lyrics away from political content and into inspired nonsense. Lennon was especially pleased with his eventual lyrics for “Come Together”; Leary seems to have been puzzled by them.

Interesting to compare Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” (1965) with Lennon’s books and his lyrics for “Come Together” (from roughly the same period). It seems to me that Dylan’s surrealism was part of a program of conscious myth-making, while Lennon’s was mostly puckish playfulness.

A bonus. People have taken the expression toe jam and run with it in a great many ways. Maybe my favorite is the T.O.E. [Tangerine, Orange, Elderberry] Jam made by an orchard in Texas:


One Response to “Morning toe jam”

  1. Alon Says:

    For the stuff that accumulates in the corners of the eyes during sleep, there are a great many everyday names (sleepies, sleep-eye, duck butter, etc.), but apparently no medical one.

    Well, there’s rheum, but it’s semantically underspecified, applying to any mucous discharge from the facial orifices, and to its liquid form as well as to its solid residue.

    One would expect a TLFESC to exist, too, as ocular rheum residue does play a diagnostic role, but it seems that doctors are happy to talk about ‘ocular mucopurulent discharge’ instead.

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