I just taught Langston Hughes' "The Cat and the Saxophone (2 A.M.)," a poem that incorporates the first lines of Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams' 1924 song "Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don't Love Nobody But Me)." And now I'm wondering about these lines from the song (which don't appear in the poem):
She's got a form like Venus, honest,I don't know about the lady's form, but it's true that the singer ain't talkin' (or singin') Greek. If he were, he'd be speaking of mighty Ἀφροδίτη (Aphrodite). Venus of course is her Roman equivalent.
I ain't talkin' Greek.
But is there a Greco-Roman joke there that the listener is meant to get? That indeed, the singer ain't talkin' Greek, because the name he invokes is Roman? Or is the lyric just a bit careless, the point being that the lady is beautiful, like a goddess? (Greek goddess? Roman goddess? Who cares!)
Wit or a mistake: it'd be nice to have a name for this kind of uncertainty. I began thinking about it when I saw a t-shirt with the name Helvetica printed in a serif font. That was wit, not a mistake. I also thought about it in relation to a t-shirt that alters the standard sequence of Beatle first names. I'm still not sure about that one.
If your computer can play RealPlayer files, you can forget about all these questions by listening to "Everybody Loves My Baby" right now, by Fats Waller and His Rhythm (John Hamilton, trumpet; Gene Sedric, clarinet; Al Casey, guitar; Cedric Wallace, bass; Slick Jones, drums), from November 6, 1940:
Everybody Loves My Baby (Jazz Old Time on line)