What is a “shivaree”?

May 8, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Language

Charivari, in the sense of a mock serenade of a newly married couple, is popularly spelled and pronounced shivaree in the United States. It is a French term and is correctly spelled charivari and pronounced sha-ree­va-ree in English.

Some authorities suppose the word was of onomatopoeic or imitative origin and was suggested by the sound of a charivari. The original charivari was a sort of “hazing” and consisted of a noisy and tumultuous gathering organized to express dislike and derision for some person. During the Middle Ages such demonstrations were frequent in western Europe against persons who had become socially or politically unpopular.

In France it became customary to raise a charivari against persons just married the second time, especially widows who remarried too hastily. Neighbors would gather around the home of the couple at night and make discordant noises, consisting of shouting, whistling, hissing, groaning, ringing cowbells, blowing tin horns, beating pans and kettles and similar hideous sounds. The crowd, generally in masks and outlandish costumes, would not stop the noisy and sometimes licentious demonstration until the newly married couple purchased their peace with a ransom, usually food and drink or money to buy such.

The French inhabitants of Louisiana and Canada are believed to have introduced the charivari to America. At any rate, the shivaree in the rural districts of the United States is probably a survival of this ancient French custom. The American shivaree is similar to the original, except that it is raised against any newly married couple and is regarded as little more than a rough joke. Even as a crude jest it is rapidly disappearing.

A boisterous parade, accompanied with a babel of discordant noises, or a burlesque serenade, is sometimes known as a callithump, equivalent to “rough music” in England.

In German the charivari is called Katzen­musik (“cat’s concert”) . Katzenjammer, familiar to us in an old comic strip entitled Katzenjammer Kids, means literally “cat’s wailing” and figuratively “hangover.”

 

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