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“No Refuge Could Save”

January 3, 2012

In Kurk’s post immediately preceding this one, he links to  a newspaper article which quotes a survey claiming that 75% of the respondents didn’t know the words to “Auld Lang Syne.”

I suspect that the survey was not scientific.  I am particularly skeptical that 25% of respondents could actually quote:  

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
but we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

I remember a cute short story by Isaac Asimov, “No Refuge Could Save” (originally entitled “To Spot a Spy.”)  Asimov turns an old World War II movie cliché on its head:  the idea of ferreting out German spies by asking them “American” questions (e.g., about baseball, or the words of the national anthem.)  In the story, intelligence operative Griswold is questioning a suspected spy, and Griswold asks to play a word association game.  Griswold says “terror of flight” and the suspect replies “gloom of the grave.”  This is proof that the subject is a spy who was trained abroad in “Americanisms,” since no one raised in the US would know the third stanza of the National Anthem (except for Griswold, who claims to know everything.)  Asimov has Griswold point out that the third stanza of the National Anthem, which openly mocks the British, was particularly likely to be omitted during the “great peace-loving years of 1941 to 1945.”

I wonder how many Americans know the National Anthem.  It is clear that at least one prominent American has repeatedly demonstrated that she cannot remember its words.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. nzumel permalink
    January 3, 2012 9:10 pm

    “This land is your land” is another example. I remember singing it in first grade, though I can only remember the chorus with any clarity. I’m sure we never got past the first couple of verses.

    My niece could sing the whole thing when she was three. That was impressive, and a bit scary.

  2. January 4, 2012 11:51 am

    Southern Baptist ministers of music notoriously have the congregations skip the third verse of the four in any given hymn of the Baptist Hymnal. Asimov’s Griswold, you must understand, was neither an American in general nor a Southern Baptist American in particular either. ( ps – growing up in Hội thánh Bắp tít, or the southern Baptist church of America exported to South Vietnam by my parents’ mission, I also experienced this important custom. The third verses in the Thánh ca Bắp Tit, or the Baptist Hymnal of Vietnam, are sorely neglected, as any insider but no outsider will know.)

    LOL. I heard Woody Arlo Guthrie singing “This land is your land” in concert once. Of course, all of us in his audience “sang along” to his father’s song as best we could. Woody Arlo, reportedly, forgot the words to his own “Alice’s Restaurant” for several years, until the song turned 30, at which time he remembered every word again. But that’s one nobody can remember all the words to.

  3. January 4, 2012 2:22 pm

    Nina: I had read somewhere that Woody Guthrie would haphazardly add verses to the song; so trying to memorize the song is a bit of a moving target.

    Kurk: (Did you mean Arlo instead of Woody?) I did not know that skipping the third verse was a Baptist custom.

  4. January 4, 2012 3:03 pm

    Yes, Theophrastus; thanks. I did indeed mean Arlo (and have edited my comment accordingly). As for the custom, I can’t say if it’s a Baptist practice generally or just a Southern Baptist one specifically. For all who have missed all those third verses of the Baptist Hymnal in church, well, you can find these online now:


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