Shave and a Haircut

"Shave and a Haircut" and the associated response "two bits" is a 7-note musical call and response couplet, riff or fanfare popularly used at the end of a musical performance, usually for comic effect. It is used both melodically and rhythmically, for example as a door knock.

"Two bits" is an archaism in the United States for 25 cents; a quarter. "Six bits" is occasionally used. The final words may also be "get lost", "drop dead" (in Australia), or some other facetious expression. In England, it was often said as "five bob" (slang for five shillings), although words are now rarely used to accompany the rhythm or the tune.

Shave and a Haircut in C
"Shave and a Haircut" in C major. Play 
These notes are: C-G-G-A-G B-C.
In a variation on this tune, the second and third notes are replaced with a triplet with the middle a semitone lower, and the fourth note is flatted.
Shave and a Haircut in G
"Shave and a Haircut" in G major and then with chords.[1] Play  or play with chords .


An early occurrence of the tune is from an 1899 Charles Hale song, "At a Darktown Cakewalk".[2] Other songs from the same period also used the tune. The same notes form the bridge in the "Hot Scotch Rag", written by H. A. Fischler in 1911.

An early recording used the 7-note tune at both the beginning and the ending of a humorous 1915 song, by Billy Murray and the American Quartet, called "On the 5:15".

In his 1933 novel, Hizzoner the Mayor, Joel Sayre wrote of boats "tooting the official Malta welcome blast to the tempo of 'Shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits, shave- and-a-haircut-two-bits, shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits,' which was soon taken up by every craft in the harbor that had a boiler,"[3] indicating that the tune was already associated by that time with the lyric.

In 1939, Dan Shapiro, Lestor Lee and Milton Berle released "Shave and a Haircut – Shampoo,"[4] which used the tune in the closing bars and has been thought to be the origin of the lyric.


The tune can be heard on customized car horns,[5][6] while the rhythm may be tapped as a door knock[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] or as a Morse code "dah-di-di-dah-di, di-dit" ( –··–·   ·· )[15] at the end of an amateur radio contact.

The former prisoner of war and U.S. Navy seaman Doug Hegdahl reports fellow U.S. captives in the Vietnam War would authenticate a new prisoner's U.S. identity by "Shave and a Haircut" as a shibboleth, tapping the first five notes of against a cell wall and waiting for the appropriate response. U.S. POWs were then able to communicate securely with one another via the quadratic alphabet code.[16]

The tune has been used innumerable times as a coda or ending in musical pieces. It is strongly associated with the stringed instruments of bluegrass music, particularly the 5-string banjo. Earl Scruggs often ended a song with this phrase or a variation of it. On the television show The Beverly Hillbillies, musical cues signifying the coming of a commercial break (cues which were in bluegrass style) frequently ended with "Shave and a Haircut". It is the most popular bluegrass run, after the G run.[1]

"Shave and a Haircut" was used in many early cartoons, particularly Looney Tunes cartoons, played on things varying from car horns to window shutters banging in the wind. It was also used as an ending to many cartoon shows, just after the credits. Decades later, the couplet became a plot device used by the chief antagonist Judge Doom in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the idea being that Toons cannot resist finishing with the "two bits" when they hear the opening rhythm.[17]

The phrase has been incorporated into countless recordings and performances. Notable examples include:

Uses in other countries

Shave and a Haircut
An example of the couplet.

In Mexico, the melody is highly offensive, as it is commonly used to stand in for the rhythmically similar vulgar phrase "chinga tu madre, cabrón" (English: "Fuck your mother, asshole!").[5][7][22][6]

The Italian version is Ammazza la vecchia...col Flit! (English: "Kill the old lady...with Flit!")—Flit being an old brand of DDT insecticide. This is a humorous popular version of a post-World War II commercial Ammazza la mosca... col Flit (English: "Kill the fly with Flit!"). This version is never perceived as offensive, but just as a joke.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, the tune is frequently used among children to induce silence. The lyrics are "Chip chocolat gomme, Peanut!" (English: "Chip chocolate gum, Peanut!").[23]

The tune is used in Catalan with a different lyric: "Nas de barraca. Sant Boi" (English: "Shack nose. Sant Boi"). It is also tapped, as a door knock. The Catalan lyrics may come from Blanes, where it was sung twice with Nas de barraca. Sant Boi. Cinc de carmelos pel noi (English: Shack nose. Sant Boi. Five candies for the boy).[24]

In Spain, it is sung with the lyrics, Una copita... de Ojén (English: "A shot of schnapps").

In Sweden it was used in a commercial for the Bronzol brand of candy with the slogan Hälsan för halsen—Bronzol (English: Health for your throat—Bronzol).

In the Netherlands, the phrase is used when someone leaves with the intention to not return. Die zien we nooit meer, te-rug (English: We shall never see them, a-gain). It is used as a way to make fun of someone/something, if it suddenly disappears from the scene.

In Argentina, Carlos Balá, a former children's TV programmes host, used to include a bit in his routine in which he would hum the "shave and a haircut" part of the tune, prompting the children in the audience to answer "Ba-lá" to the rhythm of the two final notes.

See also


  1. ^ a b Traum, Happy (1974). Bluegrass Guitar, p.26. ISBN 0-8256-0153-3.
  2. ^ Much of this article is taken from James Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. 5th ed., revised and enlarged (New York: Dover Publications, 2000), p. 495.
  3. ^ Sayre, Joel (1933). Hizzoner the Mayor: A Novel. New York: John Day Company. pp. 28–29.
  4. ^ "Catchy Tune Central Archived 2010-06-12 at the Wayback Machine.", Members.MultiMania.NL.
  5. ^ a b Franz, Carl; Havens, Lorena (2006). The People's Guide to Mexico. Avalon Travel Publishing. p. 319. ISBN 1-56691-711-5.
  6. ^ a b Arellano, Gustavo (2008). Ask a Mexican. Scribner. p. 26. ISBN 1-4165-4003-2.
  7. ^ a b Thompson, Chuck (2009). To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism. Holt Paperbacks. p. 220. ISBN 0-8050-8788-5.
  8. ^ Stanton, John (September 20, 1948). "In Mexico City Traffic is Terrific". LIFE. Time, Inc.
  9. ^ Keenan, Joseph John (2004). Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74322-X.
  10. ^ Axtell, Roger E.; Fornwald, Mike (1998). Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. Wiley. p. 101. ISBN 0-471-18342-3.
  11. ^ Axtell, Roger E. (1998). Do's and Taboos of Humor Around the World. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-25403-7.
  12. ^ Ruiz Fornells, Enrique; Ruiz-Fornells, Cynthia Y. (1979). The United States and the Spanish World. Sociedad General Española de Librería. ISBN 84-7143-192-0.
  13. ^ Wilder, Cora Sarjeant; Sherrier, James (1992). Celebrating Diversity. Ginn Press. ISBN 0-536-58133-9.
  14. ^ Partridge, Eric; Dalzell, Tom; and Victor, Terry (2007). The concise new Partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English, p.571. ISBN 978-0-415-21259-5.
  15. ^ King, Thomas W. (1999). Modern Morse Code in Rehabilitation and Education. Allyn & Bacon. p. 77. ISBN 0-205-28751-4.
  16. ^ Brace, Ernest C. (May 2, 2008). "Messages From John". Archived from the original on December 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Bartholomew, Dave, "The King Sides" Collectables (CD) 2883, 2004
  19. ^ Cleveland, Barry (Sep 1, 2002). "It Happened This Month". Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-26.
  20. ^ "Cantata 'Blaus Gras'". The Peter Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach Web Site. July 3, 2011. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Gerrard, Arthur Bryson (ed.) (1980). Cassell's Colloquial Spanish, 3rd revised ed. London: Cassell Ltd. p. 60. ISBN 0-304-07943-X.
  23. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Sola i Ramos, Elisa (December 1999). "PROVERBIS, DITES I FRASES FETES DE BLANES" (PDF). Servei de Català de Blanes (CPNL). Retrieved March 2016. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

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