Line 1, doctor, that crazy coconut again

And the doctor said to her — everybody join in! — “Put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up”.

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro Desert Island cartoon, with Wayno’s title “Coco Loco”:

(#1) The terrible toll of isolation (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

The extraordinarily versatile coconut — the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) — pressed into service as a telephone receiver for a desperate and deranged castaway.

From Wikipedia on coconuts:

The coconut tree provides food, fuel, cosmetics, folk medicine and building materials, among many other uses. The inner flesh of the mature seed, as well as the coconut milk extracted from it, form a regular part of the diets of many people in the tropics and subtropics. Coconuts are distinct from other fruits because their endosperm contains a large quantity of clear liquid, called coconut water or coconut juice. Mature, ripe coconuts can be used as edible seeds, or processed for oil and plant milk from the flesh, charcoal from the hard shell, and coir from the fibrous husk. Dried coconut flesh is called copra, and the oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking – frying in particular – as well as in soaps and cosmetics. [I soften the dry scaly skin on my hands, arms, legs, and feet with coconut oil.] Sweet coconut sap can be made into drinks or fermented into palm wine or coconut vinegar. The hard shells, fibrous husks and long pinnate leaves can be used as material to make a variety of products for furnishing and decoration.

The uses of coconuts in cooking are many (including such American specialties as coconut cream pie). Coconut milk —


— is a popular food ingredient in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines, in particular) and South Asia (especially Sri Lanka and South India); and also in Brazilian, Caribbean, and Hawaiian cooking.

And more, much more.

The coconut palm and its coconuts are symbols of the tropics; they have symbolic value in various religions; and of course coconuts are symbols of breasts or testicles, take your pick. While half a cut coconut serves as a vaginal symbol. (I’d intended to illustrate this with a photo, but was unable to find one that didn’t charge a fee for use.)

The coconut shell is used to make quite a variety of musical instruments: a kalimba (or thumb piano), a Vietnamese bowed string instrument, a coconut maraca, or a coconut drum.

And the halves of an empty shell, tapped together, make a satisfying clip-clop sound.

Then there are musical tributes to the coconut. Here I mention only two. In an 11/10/14 posting of mine, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”. And then the song alluded to in the first line of this posting; from Wikipedia:

“Coconut” is a [Caribbean-flavored] novelty song written and first recorded by American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, released as the third single from his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson.

… The lyrics feature Nilsson singing three characters (a narrator, a woman and a doctor), each in a different voice. The song describes a story in which a woman has a stomach ache and calls her doctor who prescribes the same drink that gave her the stomach ache in the first place. With the help of her brother, they concoct a beverage consisting of lime and coconut. When the sister calls the doctor late at night, the doctor (annoyed at being awakened by such a complaint) laughs her off and recommends that she “put the lime in the coconut and drink ’em both [up / down]” — then call him in the morning.

The song is wonderfully (or dreadfully, depending on your point of view) infectious, so I won’t inflict it on you here. Meanwhile, since the song seems elaborately silly, there’s wild speculation about what it “really means”, with abortion, pimping, and (far and away the most popular idea) drugs offered as themes. The drug stories involve bongs (made of coconuts) and weed (the green stuff, disguised as a lime), and they’re not entirely implausible; remember that the song came out in 1971, when nearly any song might turn out to incorporate coded references to drug-dealing and -taking.

But, but … songs take on lives of their own. The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” certainly had a gay subtext (which was, at the very least, naughty) when it became popular, but it’s morphed into an enthusiastic anthem for sporting events, sung by fans who connect it in no way to what goes on in the secret locales of gay male sexual liaisons. And that’s fine. The social meanings and functions of songs change over time, like everything else in the sociocultural world, and it would be just foolish to insist that the earliest meaning is the only valid one. (That’s just another version of the etymological fallacy in lexical semantics.)

So I’m happy singing “Coconut” while treating its peculiar story line as satisfyingly surrealistic.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: