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From New York Girls by by Finbar Furey

Shipmates listen unto me, I'll tell you in my song
Of the things that happened to me
When I come home from Hong Kong

CHORUS:

To me a-weigh, you Santy, My dear Annie
Oh, you New York gals, Can't you dance the polka?

What is "a-weigh" and what is a "Santy"?

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I don't know but it is similar to this song: "From Boston Town / we're bound away, / Heave aweigh (Heave aweigh!) Santy Ano. / Around Cape Horn to Frisco Bay, / We're bound for Californi-o. / So Heave her up and away we'll go, / Heave aweigh (Heave aweigh!) Santy Ano". That is the first part of the lyrics from "Aweigh, Santy Ano" from "Sea Songs" on contemplator dot com. Good luck. I have always assumed it was "away you..." (and seen the lyrics written that way) but I bet it was "a-weigh" and had to do with pulling anchor. Love these old songs. –  user101949 Dec 13 '14 at 9:03
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Interpretation in Gangs of New York (2002, Scorsese). –  Divulgâchâmes Dec 13 '14 at 9:41

2 Answers 2

A-weigh is an easy one: to weigh (anchor). That is, let's get sailing. (In context - come to me.)

Santy is a bit more confusing. In Irish English Santy is Santa Claus

I'm not sure why Santa would be involved. Perhaps it is just a Saint in general, not Saint Nick being referred to here.

Saint Anne for example is the patron saint of unmarried women. Although, it seems more likely that Annie is just a common girl's name being invoked in the song.

Taking the whole line, I think it's an exclamatory invocation of the saints (or just calling the girl a saint and asking her to come to him), followed by a girl's name, and saying that New York girls don't dance the polka.

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Actually I think the name Annie might well be used on purpose in the context of Saint Anne, because sailors and unmarried woman sounds like a match. –  skymningen Mar 14 '14 at 10:15
    
@skymninge I was a bit equivocal on that, but it is a strong possibility. –  David M Mar 14 '14 at 11:01

There are quite a few variations in the lyrics for this song, depending on where you look on the internet, as it has been performed by many artists. Many say "And away Santy", and some also use "honey" instead of "Annie".

I suspect, however, that it may be a reference to (or at least a mutation of) the shouted reprise "Away Santianna!" of the shanty "Santianna". Another clue comes in the final two lines of the song

So sailor lads, take warning, when you land on that New York shore,/ You'll have to get up early to be smarter than a whore

So, it seems evident that the song is written from the viewpoint of a sailor, who would be familiar with the Santianna shanty.

Folk songs, shanties and the like are mostly passed on orally, rather than in writing, so mutations can easily occur, and I think that is what has happened in this case.

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