Monday, March 25, 2002

Ask A Stupid Question

Only purple people need to fear monster

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Question: “I am 6 years old and confused. In the song, "One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater,' is the monster purple, or does the monster only eat purple people? My dad says it's an adjective problem.”

        Answer: Your dad is right. People in general and songwriters in particular often have trouble with hyphens and when to use them. (They're almost as puzzling as apostrophes, but let's not go to the Joneses' just now.)

        In this case, the official song title, “Purple People Eater,” by actor and country singer Sheb Wooley, should have been written “Purple-People Eater,” which would have given us all a better hint that purple refers to the people, not the monster.

        (Although, as the title is written, the monster could be purple, too. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

        Mr. Wooley wrote both the lyrics and the music . . . and played scout Pete Nolan on television's Rawhide.

        Our best clue to his intention lies in the third stanza: I said, “Mister purple people eater, what's your line?” He said, “Eatin purple people, and it sure is fine.”

        “It would seem as though the color refers to the people being ingested more than the monster,” says Dusty Rhodes, Hamilton County auditor, WGRR-FM (103.5) radio disc jockey and “oldies” music expert.

        Ah. Don't you long for the days when music had depth?

        “Chalk it up as a cute play on words, and a very successful novelty hit,” Mr. Rhodes says.

        The song was Billboard Hot 100's No. 1 for six weeks in the summer of 1958, making it the all-time most popular “one-hit wonder” based on chart statistics, according to Mr. Rhodes. A one-hit wonder qualifies as such when it is the only song by an artist to break the Top 40 pop chart.

        If you have a stupid question, send it to Ask a Stupid Question by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax: 768-8330; e-mail:


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