Listen With Others

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Listener No 4709, For a Song: A Setter’s Blog by Elfman

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 May 2022

After I thought about the theme for this puzzle, I began to research words for yes and no in various languages. On my own, I came up with YES/NO, OUI/NON, JA/NEIN, DA/NYET. I thought Scandinavian words would be too obscure, and I knew something like “hai” is “yes” in Japanese, but there doesn’t seem to be a universal word for “no”. If you solved the puzzle, you know I used three of the four pairs listed above, but I was unable to find a word including “OUI” that became another word when OUI was replaced by either NNO or ONN. However, I remembered that when I first Googled “Yes! We Have No Bananas” up came Louis Prima, a singer that I hadn’t previously heard of, and (stupidly in retrospect) assumed he was the songwriter. I was (mildly) ecstatic. I could use LOUISPRIMA in a banana shape with OUI replaced.

I created a whole puzzle with this outcome, presented it to a test-solver, only to be informed that the songwriters of “Yes! We have No Bananas” were Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, NOT Louis Prima! Oops! Back to square one! So it became SILVERCOHN in a banana shape with SI replaced by ON initially – SI and NO being yes and no in Italian. Meanwhile, I also hit upon the Scottish: AYE and NAE, which became PLAYED replaced by PLANED. It did occur to me that some might be misled in thinking the theme involved misprints, but I was very pleased to find FONDA/FONTEYN, although there was a potential red herring there as well, since the NYET is not just “bananas” but reversed. Several people who commented to me about the puzzle mentioned that very satisfactory discovery.

One solver commenting said he thought of the theme song early on but discounted it because I am an American! The conclusion from that statement is that he believed the song to be British. But that is only partially true. Ironically, the origin of the song IS American! Irving described himself as “American of Jewish descent” and Wikipedia tells me that Cohn was born in London in 1898 but died in New Jersey in 1961 and describes him as a British-American, kind of like me. I was born and lived the first 24 years of my life in the UK but have been living in California for the past 53 years. The song was written in 1923 and was based on an actual Greek-American fruit seller, who began every sentence with “YES”. It became popular in the UK during WWII when there was a shortage of bananas, which, I suppose, made some solvers believe it is a purely British song! This is from Wikipedia:

The term has been resurrected on many occasions, including during rationing in the United Kingdom in World War II, when the British government banned imports of bananas for five years. Shop owners put signs stating “Yes, we have no bananas” in their shop windows in keeping with the war spirit.

There is also an Irish connection, also from Wikipedia:

The song was the theme of the outdoor relief protests in Belfast in 1932. These were a unique example of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland protesting together, and the song was used because it was one of the few non-sectarian songs that both communities knew. The song lent its title to a book about the depression in Belfast.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this puzzle to Murray Glover, who passed away at the end of last year. He was a crack solver in his day. I came to know him through the Crossword Centre and stayed at his house in Walton-on-Thames on one of my visits to the UK. He was of the opinion (that I do not share) that there were far too many Listener puzzles where the gimmick was to find a list of “magic” letters (misprints, extra letters, and so on) that spelled an instruction or info about the theme. Well. Murray, this was a puzzle without magic letters – sorry you were not able to take a crack at it. RIP.

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