The Straight Dope | The Straight Dope | Chicago Reader

News & Politics » The Straight Dope

The Straight Dope


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


hello cecil. my question is, the song lady marmalade, what are they saying? is it in another language, or what??? --thanx, kandy :o)

No prob, Kandy. Although you should realize that in some quarters your "emoticon" will be interpreted as "I'm a mouth breather." Then again, a lot of emoticons can be taken in more than one way, such as ;-) (I am afflicted with a severe twitch), :-X (I've been kidnapped and stuffed in a trunk), and |-( (My name is Igor). My personal favorite, however, is still :-) :-) :-) 8-), which means, "I don't care if it's the first day of school--look at all the COLORS!"

As for your question, you realize this is taking me away from the Ebola research, but it'll keep. I'm not sure what part of LaBelle's 1975 disco hit "Lady Marmalade" you think is in a different language, but let's run through the candidates in order of likelihood:

(1) Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? It's French, honey. It means, "Want to lie down with me this evening?" Lady Marmalade is a badass chick from the Moulin Rouge, see, and she has these needs. Lest you jump to an erroneous conclusion, the singer later informs us, "We independent women, some mistake us for whores / We say, 'Why spend mine, when I can spend yours?'"

(2) Giuchie giuchie ya ya da da (da da da) / Giuchie giuchie ya ya here, oh yeah (here ohooo yea yeah) / Mocca choca lata ya ya. It's Iroquois. "By the shores of Gitche Gumee / By the shining Big-Sea-Water," etc. Lady Marmalade is taking time out from a flop in the sack to express solidarity with Native Americans.

(3) Creole Lady Marmalade. Maybe you didn't need this part explained to you. But some people--I mention no names--think the line is "Real old Lady Marmalade," and I want to get things cleared up

at last.

I know that Mexican jumping beans jump because of worms or larvae inside, but what kind of beans are they, and what kind of worms? What happens to the worm? Does it hatch out as a bug or moth or something, or what? --Laura Clemons

You're thinking: "Boy, Cecil, really working hard today, aren't you?" To which I reply, Come on--you never heard of the lazy days of summer? Here's the sum total of what I know about Mexican jumping beans:

(1) As a kid I was completely creeped out by the thought of a bean being eaten from the inside by a hungry bug that might break through at any moment and start in on my hand. It was no comfort to come back the next day and find that the bug had escaped from the bean by means of a perfectly circular hole and was now on the loose.

(2) Actually, there was one thing worse: the scene in Pinocchio where Pinocchio and his buddies smoke, drink, engage in wanton destruction, and then turn into donkeys. Saw it again a few years back, and it still made my skin crawl.

(3) OK, the science. The bug inside the bean is a small gray critter known as the jumping bean moth, Cydia saltitans. The bean is not a bean but a section of a seed capsule from the jumping bean shrub, Sebastiana pavoniana. (Some say Sebastiana palmieri. Whatever.) The mama moth deposits its eggs on the ovaries of this shrub, which grows on hillsides in the Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Baja California. The eggs hatch and the larvae bore into the seedlets and consume the seed inside. According to the natural-history page "Wayne's Word" (, "the robust, yellowish-white larva" indulges in "the peculiar habit of throwing itself forcibly from one wall to the other, thereby causing the jumping movements of the capsule." One explanation is that this helps scare away birds, but we might just as well credit the dawning realization on the part of the larva: "What the--?! I'm inside a bean!"

(4) Just so we're clear on this, the larva doesn't exit the unbean until it has metamorphosed into a moth. Seems like a waste that it should go to all that trouble only to turn into a stupid moth. Now you know how the 'rents felt after spending all that money to send you to art school only to have you wind up a CPA.

(5) Mexican jumping beans are rarely sold as novelties in Mexico.

(6) A substantial portion of the world's Mexican jumping beans emanates from one Mexican town, Alamos. (Alamo means cottonwood, by the way. Always wondered myself.) The locals supplement their income by harvesting the seed capsules from the surrounding slopes and listening for the rustling noise they make. The hills are alive, one enthusiast gushes, with the sound of brincadores (jumpers). Dunno about you, but I say: bleagh.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Cecil Adams.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment