Do Your Ears Hang Low? Origin and Evolution

Dogs with long ears that hang low

“Do Your Ears Hang Low?” is a popular kids’ song with quirky lyrics and a lively tune.

Commonly sung in schools, at birthday parties, and at camps, this children’s rhyme is said to refer to the long ears of a hound. However, the various origin stories surrounding this song strongly suggest otherwise.

Today, we’ll be discussing the different theories about the origin of “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” and how the lyrics evolved to their current form. And none of them are pleasant. So we’ve created an original photo of two hounds with long ears and rainbows to try and balance it out!

Origin Story #1: Civil War

According to a theory that’s been going around since 2006, the origin of the song “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” goes back to the civil war in the United States.

This particular story started circling the music scene after the American rapper Jibbs dropped his debut single named “Chain Hang Low” in October 2006. The song’s popularity pushed it to become a top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s said that “Chain Hang Low” mimics “Ears Hang Low” and that the latter’s history is quite dark.

It goes like this: after battles, Confederate soldiers would remove body parts -mostly ears and testicles- from the corpses of the dead freed slaves who fought as Northern soldiers.

The Confederate soldiers would then attach those body parts on ropes and wear them around their necks as war trophies.

The current common lyrics for “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” include a line in the first verse that sings:

“Can you throw them over your shoulder?

Like a continental soldier?”

Apparently, the word “continental” replaced “Confederate” to make the song appropriate for children and turn it playful instead of racist.

Origin Story #2: Spanish Flu

The second origin story of the humorous song “Do Your Ears Hang Low” is, once again, far from amusing. It’s said to be about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

It’s no secret that the pandemic took the lives of many soldiers, especially during demobilization. But it’s not as well known that the number of soldier deaths was so high that bodies in army hospitals were tagged with their serial number only on the ear.

Army medics who were responsible for dispatching the corpses tried whatever they could to ease the toll of the grim task a bit. One of the ways was humming a funeral song while working, in which they pretend to be talking with the dead soldiers and poking fun at their ears.

Orderlies may have responded as such because the bodies of Spanish flu victims often looked bloated with grinning expressions on their faces.

It’s said that this song first appeared at Army posts in the Delaware area, but was first documented by Corporal Austin Cooper in his memoirs, who moved on to become the first head of the USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases).

Origin Story #3: “Turkey in the Straw” and British Soldiers in World War I (Most Likely)

The last origin story of “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” is related to an American folk song called “Turkey in the Straw” and British Soldiers in World War I.

The melody of “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” is taken partially from “Turkey in the Straw”, which first became popular in the 19th century. An earlier version of “Turkey in the Straw” was titled “Zip Coon” with the same tune but different lyrics.

George Washington Dixon was the first to popularize “Zip Coon” and Bob Farell was the first to perform it. The time of publishing is believed to be the 1830s, likely around 1834.

In addition to “Turkey in the Straw”, some people sing “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” to the tune of “Sailor’s Hornpipe” and “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”.

As for the lyrics, some say that ” Do Your Ears Hang Low?” came first and was followed by various adult parody versions. However, many say it was the other way around; the vulgar versions came first and were altered to a sanitized version for children.

For one, reputable folklorist Ed Cray said that strong evidence exists which points out a song called “Do Your Balls Hang Low?” as the first version and “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” as a later version.

The first occurrence of “Do Your Balls Hang Low?” is estimated to be around the 1900s. It’s said that British soldiers sang it during World War I on the Western Front. 

The British military historian, Lyn MacDonald, reports that General Douglas Haig heard a column of soldiers singing the “Balls” version as they marched to the Somme in 1916. He even rode to the colonel of the troops and found him singing heartily along with his men.

The General seems to have commended the colonel on his voice and praised the melody but expressed his distaste for the lyrics, describing them as “inexcusable”.

Current Lyrics

“Do your ears hang low?

Do they wobble to and fro?

Can you tie them in a knot?

Can you tie them in a bow?

Can you throw them o’er your shoulder

like a continental soldier?

Do your ears hang low?


Do your ears hang high?

Do they reach up to the sky?

Do they droop when they are wet?

Do they stiffen when they’re dry?

Can you semaphore your neighbor

with a minimum of labor?

Do your ears hang high?


Do your ears flip-flop?

Can you use them for a mop?

Are they stringy at the bottom?

Are they curly at the top?

Can you use them for a swatter?

Can you use them for a blotter?

Do your ears flip-flop?


Do your ears hang out?

Can you waggle them about?

Can you flip them up and down

as you fly around the town?

Can you shut them up for sure

when you hear an awful bore?

Do your ears hang out?


Do your ears give snacks?

Are they all filled up with wax?

Do you eat it in the morning

Do you eat it in the bath?

Do you eat it with a scone

Or do you eat it on its own?

Do your ears give snacks?”

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