The first verse of the song "All that meat and no potatoes" by Louis Armstrong says:

A man works hard then comes on home, 
Expects to find stew with that fine ham bone. 
He opens the door, then start to looking, 
Says, Woman, what's this stuff you're cooking?

"Start to looking" sounds wrong to me.

Of course he needs to rhyme with "cooking" so he could have used "starts looking" but then the sentence would be too short for the tempo.

So my question is: Is it actually correct to say "start to looking" or definitely not?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because about the interpretation of song lyrics. – Chenmunka May 24 '17 at 9:37
  • 1
    It's a question about the correctness in English to say something, how can it be off topic?? – Sembei Norimaki May 24 '17 at 9:48
  • Tempo is a measure of speed; you probably mean meter. – StoneyB on hiatus May 24 '17 at 9:58
  • @Chenmunka I am not asking about the meaning but about the correctness of a sentence. – Sembei Norimaki May 24 '17 at 11:41

Start to VERBing, start in to VERBing, get to VERBing, get started to VERBing, and get started in to VERBing were all common in the dialect around me when I was young in East Alabama; it doesn't surprise me that one such construction should show up 350 miles to the southwest.

To in these constructions is a preposition, not an infinitive marker.

  • That's a valuable argument. However, shouldn't it anyway be starts, with an s? – Christian Geiselmann May 24 '17 at 10:08
  • @ChristianGeiselmann Omission of the 3sg inflection is very common in AAVE -- so common that in fact I didn't even notice it. – StoneyB on hiatus May 24 '17 at 10:23
  • @ChristianGeiselmann In fact in the only Armstrong recording I've found the vocalist (identified in different sources as Fitzerald and as Middleton) sings conventionally inflected "starts to looking". – StoneyB on hiatus May 24 '17 at 12:48

In terms of traditional grammar of standard English it is wrong, of course. Meaning: a school teacher would count it as a mistake, or two.

However, there are ways to interpret this by means of rhethoric figures, and as it is a song text, i.e. something like a poem, why not?

So, if you want to avoid stating that Armstrong made grammar mistakes, you may resort to interpreting this as an (extreme) form of ellipsis:

He opens the door, then [there is a] start to [the action of him] looking

Okay, I admit, on a scale between far-fetched and absurd, this is more to the latter, but, well... to save Amstrong's grammar reputation... ?

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