12 April 2006

A Comma Here, a Hyphen There

Joy asked a question about a certain bathing suit song: The famous lyric, "She wore an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini" created an image in my mind of a bathing suit adorned with tiny yellow circles, but in [a] tv ad the girl's suit had pink circles on a yellow background. Understandably, I could see how the lyric could be interpreted that way, but do you know how it was meant to be interpreted?

Thank you for the question, Joy. Isn't it interesting the difference a comma can make? Or, in this case, a hyphen. The song in question is "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-dot Bikini" written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss: and recorded by Brian Hyland in 1960.

Personally, I always thought it was a suit with yellow d
ots -- like you. I am quite surprised to find out it has been interpreted as a yellow suit with dots of some other color.

The punctuation for the way you and I see the suit would be "yellow-polka-dot bikini" using hyphens to create a compound modifier; the way the commercial sees it would be "yellow, polka-dot bikini."

Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to find any lyrics with the punctuation as shown above. I have checked official music registry web sites and could not even find the song listed. I have found a couple sets of lyrics that list it as "yellow polka-dot bikini" (missing both a hyphen and a comma). So, I think we will have to stick with that until original sheet music can be found.


joy said...

Danka, danka, danka! I know it was such a Seinfeld-esque question to pose so I appreciate your answering it thoughtfully without mocking my insanity at asking it! :)

Christopher said...

We never mock anyone's insanity here at JAC.