The History of Hums

The Green Key weekend historically marked the occasion when the “Hums” were performed at the College. The Hums, dating from 1899, were clever and humorous tunes composed by the fraternities and presented by their pledges for the amusement of all. In the spirit of good-natured competition, the Hums were judged by faculty and administrators, with a small purse going annually to the house with the best song. Of course, the College being what it was, things gradually degenerated. Traditionally, performers were attired in crisp white shirts and pressed pants as black as night; by the late sixties, the standards were somewhat less fastidious (see the accompanying photo-graph.) The content slipped as well. Over the years, the songs became more and more risqué, and, ultimately, entirely inappropriate.

“The Cohog Song” is perhaps the most infamous Hum, debuting during the spring of 1975. Those were heady days at the College, women having been first admitted some three years previous. The Hanover Plain was hardly a hospitable place for the new co-eds. The male-to-female ratio, I’m told, was something like eighty-three-to-one. One evening before Green Key, some miscreant stole the toilet seats from every single female restroom on campus. “Our Cohogs,” as the Hum was officially titled, hardly added to the cordial ambiance.

Performed to the melody of “This Old Man,” it proclaimed that Dartmouth’s new women were “all here to spoil our fun,” that “they all ruined our masculine heaven,” that “they’re all a bunch of f—–g whores.” Goodness. Most of the other lines are unsuited for publication, but “Our Cohogs” ends with the chorus “With a nick nack patty whack / Send the b-tches home / Our cohogs go to bed alone.”

Many co-eds attending Hums walked out that year, but the song delighted others—namely, the Dean of the College, Carroll Brewster. Dean Brewster was the head judge and he immediately proclaimed “Our Cohogs” the finest song in the competition. He bounded to the stage, and, throwing his arms around the performers, took the lead in a rousing encore presentation of the racy verses.

Hums: an old tradition we may have failed, or at least NRO'd.

Hums: an old tradition we may have failed, or at least NRO’d.

A “cohog” is literally a clam, being a phonetic spelling of “quahog.” But it was intended by the song-smiths who dashed off the jingle as a base vernacular term for a woman’s vagina. They also had a double purpose in mind. Unveiled duringthe first days of “co-education,” “co-hog” branded College women as swine.

Hums, though insensitive, still took more than a decade to peter out. To this day the influence of the Cohog song remains pernicious, or so I’m told, as some insouciant wags still spontaneously burst into song when the occasion strikes them. And that’s the basic gist of cohogs at the College. In other areas of New England, however, cohogs are not the subject of ridicule—but, rather, of respect and high esteem.

On Cape Cod, quahogs (as I will now properly reference the beasts) would be esteemed a delicious luxury but for their great plenty along the sandy shores—as such, they are merely a delicious staple. Quahogs are oval-shaped hinged shell-fish,a variety of which conchologists call bi-valvular. They have an extremely hard shell and a tough adductor muscle that, in combination, allows them to bolt themselves off from the rest of the world in a fashion that few living creatures can command; they then bury themselves at the edge of the shore and beneath the sea bottom. That is, until they’re harvested and consumed by man. The standard bill of fare on the Cape is hale and plain— johnnycakes, fried smelts, salted alewives, cranberry conserve, Indian pudding, &c. Quahogs, however they’re prepared, are an essential part of the diet. They can be stuffed, for instance, after they’ve been shucked (always remembering to use a good clam-knife and to fold the fingers, not squeeze). The belly and the mantle are chopped or ground and mixed with bread crumbs and seasoning and spooned back into the shell. Or, they can be made into quahog pie, which is exactly what it sounds like: quahogs in cream sauce underneath a pastry lattice. Quahog pie, no longer the indispensable dish that it once was, usually came as a breakfast dish. It was also savored at four of the clock, the customary break from the afternoon’s labor, be it raising a barn or laying in a cargo of cod. Quahog pie was usually accompanied by hard cider or blackstrap, a concoction of molasses and West Indian rum.

A chowder is a more customary way of serving quahogs these days. A proper quahog chowder is always made, not cooked, and it never contains tomatoes. The atrocious pink stew found on metropolitan menus is wholly an affront. The quahog bellies must be thrown pell-mell into a cauldron and marinated in their own liquor, before adding butter, onions, parbroiled potatoes, and well-larded salt pork, with cream added at the last.

A more sociable way of consuming the indomitable quahog is at clam bake (though the quahogs are actually steamed.)A pit is excavated on the beach and filled with burning cord; stones are added and fired red white hot. When the blaze expires,wet rockweed is raked over embers and the quahogs are piled on fresh from the sea; on top that, corn, potatoes, onions, and fish wrapped in cheesecloth. Then the whole rig is coveredwith sand and battened down with a canvas or tarpaulin, andleft for hours to cook. A clam bake ends with a meal enjoyed by all.

Then there is the celebrated recipe of Captain Peleg Hawes, a man whose fame has been handed down through the old-line New England folkways. Captain Peleg would simply place the quahogs mouth down onto the ground and toss hot coals a-plentifully across their backs, the searing heat destroying the tenacity of the hinges. The Captain would simply remove the upper shell and apply a pat of freshly-churned butter and a sprinkling of sea’s salt and coarse pepper. If he were feeling especially audacious, he would add a squeeze of lemon.

Captain Peleg was a man of simplicity and honesty, but he was also a vinegary old crank. Once, at the sailing-hour for a voyage to the Orient, he promised his wife Arathusy that he would write her a letter from afar, so that he might staunch her weeping and not hold up his vessel. Twelve months from his departure, Arathusy received an envelope by post; trembling, she tore into it to find:

Hong Kong, China,
May 21, 1854.
Dear Arathusy:
I am here and you are there.
P. Hawes.

It would seem, then, that chauvinism was not limited to Old Dartmouth, but to Old Cape Cod as well—which brings us to the point of this fairly lengthy digression.

The term “quahog” was as exclusionary on the Cape as was “cohog” at the College. The quahog’s aboriginal name,”poquauhocks,” came by way of the Narragansett Indians. Off-Cape the word was abominably degraded to “clam,” but on-Cape it remained. Those who came from afar the Massachusetts coast were bewildered both by the menus and by the tall-talk of the laconic townsmen speaking of the mysterious “Quahog.” Eventually, the force of custom eroded, and the faint-of-heart devised “co-hog” as a mnemonic aid for the un-initiated. At Dartmouth, they thought the co-eds would blow the curve, ruin the football team, and force everyone into summer school, and so they used the term the other way around and yet in the same way: to exclude and to humiliate. Remember that, whether you’re admiring a pert quahog sunning herself on the Green or unearthing a cohog when the tide is at low ebb.

This set piece to the Review‘s Green Key coverage was written by Joseph A. Rago.