Shave and a Haircut

We all know that famous rhythm, door knock, pattern: “dah dah di dah di, dah dah”.  It is used all the time, everywhere.  It used to knock on a door, to get someone’s attention, and in the second grade classroom I taught at, it was used to get them to silence and focus.  

Turns out, this pattern has an interesting back story.  In morse code it punches out as: dash dot dot dash dot, dot dash.  Because morse code does not focus on letters but patterns and combinations, this certain rhythm actually means “attention.”  In war days, soldiers would execute this certain pattern to let a comrade know that they were of friends, not enemies, or that they had a prisoner.  When passing code all day it was considered humorous to tap out this “attention” pattern.

The popularity grew however after it was featured in many popular songs.  Artist’s like Joel Sayre, Dan Shapiro, Lester Lee, and Milton Berle all used this in their music and the catchiness spread.  Many musicians included this in reference to war time.  The height of its fame however came from the old song “Shave and a Haircut”– which is now the common name for the clap.  This song was placed in a commercial for Lucky Tiger Aftershave and it never was forgotten.

Interestingly enough, this pattern is heavily advised not to used because it gets translated in a much more negative form.  The connotation of this seven phrase knock is insulting and vulgar.  It contains the inference of cruel language and aggressive violence.

However, in the classroom, as in many American classrooms, this is used a common tactic to get the students to focus and look up at the teacher.  When the classroom got noisy a child came to me and said “Just do the clap!”  I proceeded to clap the five times in rhythm and the students followed by finishing off the last two and sitting quietly.