Harry’s Jockstrap

(Well, yes, jockstraps, depicted and described, with attention to their contents, so not to everyone’s taste.)

In a comment on my 8/15 posting “Jock Robin” (a posting about jockstraps in beautiful colors, masculinity, and sexuality), Mike McManus  noted the relevant novelty song “Harry’s Jockstrap” (a jock that’s pale blue, suggesting that Harry is a fairy),  a burlesque on the French nursery rhyme (and round) “Frère Jacques”. I had somehow missed “Harry’s Jockstrap”, but here it is, in all of its pale blue fairy glory:

Harry’s jockstrap, Harry’s jockstrap
It’s pale blue, it’s pale blue
They say that he’s a fairy. But Harry is so hairy
So are you, so are you

(Call this verse HJ.) The burlesque goes on and on through many more verses; I’ll give you a transcription and a recording of the whole thing — but first, some background.

Jockstraps. Jocks figure in all this because they are garments devoted to holding and protecting (and therefore to displaying) the male genitals; as the cradles of the primary male sexual characteristics, they then serve as symbolic representatives of masculinity. For men in general, loci of both pride and anxiety; for gay men, the primary loci of desire as well.

As a result, images of jockstrapped men, like images of nude men, are often stripped to their symbolic core: just the jockstrap, just the genitals, in effect disembodied crotches. Or, zooming out for a wider view that takes in more of the body, just the torso (still limbless and faceless). Or, zooming out further to take in at least the face, providing the jockstrap or bare genitals with a personality, an intelligence, a fully human presence. (All three presentations are used in ads for men’s underwear and gay porn, and even in male art.)

The 8/15 jockstrap was a Cellblock 13 — a company frankly aimed at gay men — Tight End — suggestively named — jockstrap in robin’s egg blue, in a crotch shot (just the package, man):


The image is strictly focused on the jock as garment and on its color, downplaying as much as possible the carnality of its contents, with only its bulge as a hint of the raunchy sexual flesh inside. It’s a tribute to the symbolic power of the male genitalia for gay men that so many of us nevertheless find this stripped-down and actually rather decorous presentation, um, moving.

In fact, the symbolic power of the jockstrap extends even to the garments by themselves, uninhabited, lacking any suggestion of a pubic whiff or phallic heft; they can still serve as triggers for fantasy pleasure. Sticking to the blue theme:

(#2) 3 -pack of Papi all-cotton jockstraps in three shades of blue from the Pricepulse company

But now zooming out from things like #2, we get this Hustler Blue jockstrap from the Coyote company:

(#3) A guy with legs, torso, arms, and most of a face; despite the hustler in the name, an entirely decorous bulge

Zooming out a bit further, a young man (touching his body and gazing at us with a complex facial expression — this guy has eyes) wearing an ActiveMan jockstrap in baby blue from the International Jock catalogue:

(#4) Now seriously sexualized — in particular, with the visible outline of a half-erect and uncircumcised penis

On Being Blue. (A bow to William H. Gass’s On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (1976), described by Brian Dillon in a 3/15/14 Guardian review of its reissue as “a catalogue of sorts containing blue things, desires, concepts and usages”.) From my 4/28/17 posting “Faces follow-up 1: Master Beckford”, about William Beckford and much more:

Not long after this artistic activity [including Gainsborough’s Blue Boy], the English word blue picked up a new use. From OED3 (March 2013), for the adj. blue 10. colloq.:

a. Coarse, obscene; (esp. of a joke, story, film, etc.) having sexual content, pornographic. Cf. blue movie [first cite 1818]
b. Of language: characterized by obscenities; coarse or offensive. Cf earlier blue streak [first cite 1832]

(I have no good source on the mechanisms of this semantic development. But it then puts the color blue into competition with red as the color of sex. The associations of red with fire and thus with heat — high temperature, spiciness, enthusiasm, lustfulness — makes red a natural symbol of sexual desire and sexual activity, but I don’t at the moment see the route for blue.)

This development adds a possible sexual tinge to Blue Boy.

Then, in a separate development, in the U.S. in the 20th century, it seems primarily through clothing marketers, pastel pink came to be associated with girl babies, pastel blue with boys, and then pink came to be seen generally as a feminine color and blue as masculine, which meant that pink things for men came to connote effeminacy (and therefore homosexuality — as a result, some men are still wary about dressing in anything pink) and blue things assertive masculinity — which in combination with blue connoting sex makes blue available as a color for gay macho.

Put that together with Gainsborough’s Blue Boy as a well-known figure of confident young manhood, and I suppose it was inevitable that in an age of increasing sexual freedom, there would appear a magazine for gay men called Blue Boy (or Blueboy). And so it happened.

The blue that came to symbolize masculinity in the US is no namby-pamby pretty pastel (like the bottom jock in #2),  but plain-talking real-man shoot-from-the-hip “true blue” (like the middle jock in #2; the top jock is dark navy, nearly black); like all pastel colors (light in color and unsaturated), pale blue on a man is suspect, as feminine and therefore faggy.

(HJ suggests that Harry’s hairiness shows that he couldn’t be queer, presumably because, the singer believes, significant body hair is a sign of masculinity, and that’s incompatible with homosexuality. The whole thing is silly beyond belief; the world is rich in hairy fairies*, of whom Mike McManus, a notable gay bear, and I are two. Though I do understand that hairiness as a litmus for straightness is a widely held folk belief, a consequence of the powerful folk theory that homosexuality is literally sexual inversion, so that gay men are, by definition, feminine, in fact a species of female. *Note: I don’t usually call myself a fairy, because that was the epithet I was so painfully taunted with by other boys as a child. But the rhyme hairy fairy is delicious, and, in any case, now I am a man and should put away childish hurts: time for me to embrace the slur matter-of-factly, or even joyfully, as I did above.)

In line with this, many gay men — some macho, some femme, some markedly neither — embrace pale blue as well as true blue, and happily wield it as a defiant sign of their queerness, or just because they like the color. As I recall, Blue Boy / Blueboy, which showed in its pages many hypermasculine studs vigorously performing canonical acts of mansex with one another, was actually fond of displaying pale shades of blue in its magazine design.

Notes on English vowels. Well, there’s the hairy – fairy (perfect) rhyme — from HJ: They say that he’s a fairy / But Harry is so hairy — which is just fun to play with. Then there’s Harry, and that’s something else.

In almost all English varieties except for those in a swath of Middle America, Harry and hairy are not homophonous (and Harry isn’t a perfect rhyme for fairy). For me, Harry has [æ], while hairy and fairy have [e]. The larger phenomenon is often discussed under the marry / merry / Mary heading; the question is how many distinctive vowels these words have for Americans: three (merry with [ɛ]; that’s my variety); two (merry and Mary both with [ɛ]); or just one (all with [ɛ]). The point in HJ is that for many Americans, Harry and hairy are homophones (BrE speakers typically just flat-out fail to credit that this could be so, [æ] and [e] being so phonetically distant from one another; for them, as for me, Harry and hairy are half-rhymes); these speakers then see HJ as a big play on words in [ɛri].

As it happens, the singers on the original recording of HJ (from NYC) spoke a conservative variety of American English in which Harry and hairy are distinct.

The model for the burlesque. About the French nursery rhyme / round Frère Jacques. Both words in the title are usually monosyllables, but in the variety in the rhyme their final “mute e” (“e muet”) is pronounced, as a schwa, so that in HJ both words are disyllables, accentually SW.

The French original (call it FJ), which is parodied in HJ:

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

(matines ‘matins’, referring to a service of morning prayer, is also usually a monosyllable, but here is SW disyllabic.)

The traditional English translation (call it BJ) is a considerable adaptation, but of course preserves the metrical pattern of FJ:

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John,
Morning bells are ringing! Morning bells are ringing!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

The poetic form of FJ and BJ (preserved almost exactly in HJ). The verse is a trochaic tetrameter quatrain, unrhymed; each line is a repeated two-footed (dimeter) base, which is repeated exactly:

base for line 1, SW SW; full line SW SW SW SW

base for line 2, SW SR (where R is a rest); full line SW SR SW SR

base for line 3, double-time SWsW Ss (where s is a reduced-accent S)

base for line 4, SW SR (like line 2)

Lines 1 and 2 are routine tetrameter (with a little twist in line 2). Then line 3 erupts into double time (suddenly rushing forward), while preserving the trochaic meter; in fact, each of the two feet in its base is itself a bit of trochaic dimeter: trochaic dimeter embedded within trochaic dimeter, all of it sung at double tempo to get all those syllables into one sung line. That is, the full line 3 is

SWsW Ss SWsW Ss (with 8 strong syllables instead of 4)

All of this metrically regulated, but after the metrical pattern of the poem is clearly established in the first two lines — the first line straightforwardly trochaic, the second varied by rests instead of the W syllables 4 and 8 — it breaks out in real complexity in line 3, and then returns in line 4, in closure, to the simple pattern of line 2.

So in only four lines the poem runs through the full scheme in Arnold Zwicky & Ann Zwicky on “Patterns first, exceptions later” (Channon & Shockey, To Honor Ilse Lehiste, 1986): establishing a pattern, then deviating from it, then return to it as a gesture of closure.

To return to Harry and his jockstrap, HJ follows the pattern of FJ and BJ, with one small twist that’s a common variation in front-accented metrical patterns: an initial unaccented syllable

[line 3 in HJ:] Thĕy say that he’s a fairy / Bŭt Har-ry is so hairy (accented syllables, whether S or s, are underlined)

In addition, line 3 is more complex in content: not two identical half-lines, but two different but rhyming half-lines (as above, with more to come); the effect is of two distinct tetrameter lines — call them 3a and 3b — banged together.

Dickie Goodman and “Harry’s Jockstrap”. From Wikipedia:

Richard Dorian Goodman (April 19, 1934 – November 6, 1989), known as Dickie Goodman, was an American music and record producer born in Brooklyn, New York. He is best known for inventing and using the technique of the “break-in”, an early precursor to sampling, that used brief clips of popular records and songs to “answer” comedic questions posed by voice actors on his novelty records. He also wrote and produced some original material, most often heard on the B-sides of his break-in records.

The original material included a fair number of parodies or burlesques, of the sort that Stan Freberg and Allan Sherman produced around the same time. I don’t know when “Harry’s Jockstrap” (sung by Dickie Goodman and Sadie) was first recorded, but it was included in the 1964 album of Goodman’s greatest hits:


You can listen to the whole thing on YouTube here.

The transcription; I’ve added section labels in all caps.


Harry’s Jockstrap

Hello, Sadie? – Speakin’
Did you hear about Harry? – Yeah


Harry’s jockstrap, Harry’s jockstrap
It’s pale blue, it’s pale blue
They say that he’s a fairy. But Harry is so hairy
So are you, so are you


Harry’s jockstrap, Harry’s jockstrap
It’s brand new, it’s brand new
It looks kinda skimpy, Harry’s walkin’ gimpy
So are you, so are you


Harry’s jockstrap, Harry’s jockstrap
Itches too, itches too


What about some powder? – Made him holler louder

Did he see our doctor? – Grabbed a nurse and hocked her

How about Penicillin? – That nurse was not so willin’

She give him an injection? – It gave him an erection

What about some ointment? – He tried it and his joint went

What about his sex life? – He’ll save it for his next wife

How about when he yentzes? – He won’t take no chances
[Yinglish verb yentz ‘to have sexual intercourse’]

Do you think it’s catchin’? – Well, I can’t keep from scratchin’

Stay away from me, then – So give me back my key, then

Can he get a new one? – He just loves his blue one


So do you, so do you


Harry’s jockstrap, Harry’s jockstrap
It’s pale blue, it’s pale blue (Harry’s jockstrap, Harry’s jockstrap)
He’s scratching like all the time now (It’s pale blue), He’s scratching even mine now (It’s pale blue)

I got it too, (you both must be allergic)
I got it too, (to the same detergent)
I got it too, (you got it too)
I got it too, (you got it too)
I got it too, (you got it too)

3 Responses to “Harry’s Jockstrap”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I am currently cursing the fates because this entry appeared while I am in a different house from my copy of Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, which contains a bit of dialogue between minor characters addressing the association of hairiness with virility (and fertility), which I cannot remember in sufficient detail to quote it from memory.

    One of my associations with Frère Jacques is that during my childhood my brother or I or both misconstrued the third line of the French original as “some of my Wheatena”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I managed to save all the Sayers from the Great Library Destruction, so I could in principle search for this passage in Busman’s Honeymoon; I don’t recall it, so anything you can tell me about where in the book it occurs, who the characters are, etc. would be helpful.

      And “some of my Wheatena” is a wonderful cross-language mondegreen.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        I’ll do my best; it’s been a while since I read it. You’re welcome to search for it if you’re interested, but nothing I say should be taken as a request that you do so.

        The conversation takes place between the woman who functions as a sort of non-resident housekeeper for the house that Wimsey and Harriet have taken for their honeymoon (I’ve forgotten her name) and a neighbor of hers who only appears in this scene. It’s on the morning after the principals’ wedding night, when Wimsey has leaned out of the window (without bothering to put any clothes on) to tell the housekeeper something, and she is reporting her shock at this event to the neighbor, adding that his Lordship has “no more hair on his chest than I has meself”, or something like that.

        I think this is all before the corpse has been discovered, so maybe about a third of the way through?

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