The Traditional Ballad Index

List of Keywords

Contents: Categorized Keyword List * Alphabetical Keyword List * Definitions of Selected Keywords

Categorized Keyword List:

age captivity cowardice disability disease greed grief hardheartedness hate homesickness jealousy loneliness madness poverty pride shrewishness vanity virtue

Love, Sex, and Marriage
adultery courting dowry elopement homosexuality incest infidelity love marriage rape ring seduction sex virginity wedding

accusation bargaining bequest bragging curse lie promise questions request rejection riddle wager warning

army battle brawl Civilwar contest desertion feud fight marines mutiny navy rebellion recruiting strike violence war

emigration exile exploration farewell home parting rambling return reunion separation shanghaiing train travel

Crime and Punishment
abandonment abduction abuse betrayal crime deportation execution homicide law manhunt poaching prison punishment revenge robbery sabotage sin theft transportation trial

escape freedom help mercy pardon reprieve resurrection rescue

beauty clothes colors cross-dressing disguise hiding hair shape-changing trick

Birth and Death
burial childbirth corpse death drowning dying funeral lastwill mourning pregnancy suicide

Work and Play
canal commerce factory farming fishing flying gambling gardening game gift gold harvest hunting labor-movement lumbering mining money racing railroading river sea ship shore sports tasks technology unemployment weaving work

dream Easter healing herbs magic medicine poison prophecy ritual

Good Times
cards dancing drink drugs fiddle flowers food harp music party wine

Bad Times
begging cannibalism crash disaster discrimination dustbowl fire flood hardtimes injury ordeal slavery starvation storm wreck

Africa America Australia Canada Caribbean China England France Germany Hawaii Hell India Ireland Mexico New Zealand Quebec Russia Scotland Spain Vietnam

Song Types
bawdy Bible borderballad brokentoken campsong carol chaingang Christmas cumulative derivative dialog feminist floatingverses foc's'le foreignlanguage gallows-confession humorous jumprope lament lullaby lyric memorial MiddleEnglish moniker nightvisit nonballad nonsense paradox parody patriotic playparty political recitation religious scatological shanty supernatural talltale wassail wordplay worksong

Cast of Characters
Animals -- animal bird bug chickens dog horse monster selkie sheep whale wren
Family and Lovers -- baby bachelor bastard brother children family father friend husband lover mistress mother oldmaid orphan rake sister stepmother twins whore wife youth
Employed -- apprentice boss clergy cook cowboy doctor judge knight landlord lawyer logger miller minstrel nobility pilot police royalty sailor scab servant shepherd slave soldier tinker whaler worker
Legal -- outlaw pirate pressgang prisoner thief
Supernatural -- Devil ghost gods Jesus mermaid/man witch
Ethnic and National -- Black(s) Eskimo foreigner Gypsy Indians(Am.) IRA IWW Jacobites Jew Napoleon Robinhood
Wanderers or Travellers -- hobo migrant pioneer settler

Complete Alphabetical List of Keywords

abandonment abduction abuse accusation adultery Africa age America animal apprentice army Australia baby bachelor bargaining bastard battle bawdy beauty begging bequest betrayal Bible bird Black(s) borderballad boss bragging brawl brokentoken brother bug burial campsong Canada canal cannibalism captivity cards Caribbean carol chaingang chickens childbirth children China Christmas Civilwar clergy clothes colors commerce contest cook corpse courting cowardice cowboy crash crime cross-dressing cumulative curse dancing death deportation derivative desertion Devil dialog disability disaster discrimination disease disguise doctor dog dowry dream drink drowning drugs dustbowl dying Easter elopement emigration England escape Eskimo execution exile exploration factory family farewell farming father feminist feud fiddle fight fire fishing floatingverses flood flowers flying foc's'le food foreigner foreignlanguage France freedom friend funeral gallows-confession gambling game gardening Germany ghost gift gods gold greed grief Gypsy hair hardheartedness hardtimes harp harvest hate Hawaii healing Hell help herbs hiding hobo home homesickness homicide homosexuality horse humorous hunting husband incest India Indians(Am.) infidelity injury IRA Ireland IWW Jacobites jealousy Jesus Jew judge jumprope knight labor-movement lament landlord lastwill law lawyer lie logger loneliness love lover lullaby lumbering lyric madness magic manhunt marines marriage medicine memorial mercy mermaid/man Mexico MiddleEnglish migrant miller mining minstrel mistress money moniker monster mother mourning music mutiny Napoleon navy New Zealand nightvisit nobility nonballad nonsense oldmaid ordeal orphan outlaw paradox pardon parody parting party patriotic pilot pioneer pirate playparty poaching poison police political poverty pregnancy pressgang pride prison prisoner promise prophecy punishment Quebec questions racing railroading rake rambling rape rebellion recitation recruiting rejection religious reprieve request rescue resurrection return reunion revenge riddle ring ritual river robbery Robinhood royalty Russia sabotage sailor scab scatological Scotland sea seduction selkie separation servant settler sex shanghaiing shanty shape-changing sheep shepherd ship shore shrewishness sin sister slave slavery soldier Spain sports starvation stepmother storm strike suicide supernatural talltale tasks technology theft thief tinker train transportation travel trial trick twins unemployment vanity Vietnam violence virginity virtue wager war warning wassail weaving wedding whale whaler whore wife wine witch wordplay work worker worksong wreck wren youth

Definitions of Selected Keywords

A song describing the troubled relations along the English-Scottish border. It usually centers about a raid by one side on the other, and the other side's retaliation
Refers to a song in which two lovers who are about to separate take some object (e.g. a ring) and break it in half. Upon their reunion, the broken token serves to establish their identities.
A ballad on a religious theme (not necessarily for Christmas) of traditional origin and with a plot. Thought to have been originally a dance form. Note that not all religious pieces are carols; hymns are an entirely separate class. Indeed, most of the pieces we now call "Christmas carols" are not carols; they are too elaborate, too modern, and lack a true plot.
A song in which each verse adds a new element which is repeated for each verse thereafter. An example is "The Twelve Days of Christmas," in which the singer on the first day receives only a "partridge in a pear tree," but on the second acquires "two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree" -- and so on, for each day, verse, and collection of improbable objects.
Refers to songs derived from other songs -- sequels, borrowings, heavily localized versions. Some folklorists call these "parodies," but we prefer to reserve "parody" for humorous knock-offs, as this is the sense the word has for the general public.
Refers to lyrics which "float" from song to song. For example, the words "Who will shoe your pretty little foot And who will glove your hand" show up in the Child Ballad "The Lass of Roch Royal," but also in the minimally related Carter Family song "The Storms Are on the Ocean" and several other pieces. Some songs consist almost entirely of these floating stanzas. They should not be used to establish identity.
Refers to a song which, although sung in an English-speaking country, is actually in another language (e.g. Cajun French in Louisiana, Quebecois in Canada, Scots Gaelic in Scotland, Spanish in the southwestern U.S.). The language should be identified in the description. The keyword will not be used for songs in dialect, and not used for songs (e.g. "Spanish Is the Loving Tongue" which have only snatches of a foreign language).
Abbreviation for the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor organization active primarily in the early decades of the twentieth century (though it still survives in a weakened form today). One of their primary methods of spreading their message was songs -- usually in the form of new words set to familiar tunes -- by authors such as Joe Hill.
So-called because they were supporters of the deposed English king James (Latin Jacobus) and his sons. Thus a Jacobite song is a song of, for, or by the supporters of the Stuarts against William of Orange or, especially, the Hannoverian monarchs. Most of the best Jacobite songs have to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion of 1745, although songs about other Jacobite activities are known.
A song which exists in a Middle English text, i.e. one known to have existed before 1500.
A song in which descriptions of characters is an important or dominant factor. Typically characterized by repeated lines/stanzas along the lines of "There was old (so-and-so), that (whatever), who (did something)." A typical example is "The Days of Forty-Nine," which consists primarily of descriptions of the singer and his former pals.
A song in which two lovers are (usually) forbidden by their parents to meet, but contrive to get together, often in bed, at night. Usually the man visits the girl, who leaves her window or door open for him; sometimes he may give a signal to tell her to let him in.
A song used as a singing game, especially in the American south (where dancing was ordinarily frowned up). Often part of a courting ritual. Sung a capella, with a formalized set of steps. Properly should be distinguished from a "singing game," but the distinction is often vague and we have not always respected the difference.
Refers to the method by which the British Navy "pressed" (properly "impressed") sailors. A band of toughs would go about the streets of a port town such as Liverpool, grab a likely-looking man, and force him to serve a time in the British Navy. (This was in response to the conditions aboard naval vessels, which were so bad that no one ever volunteered.) On occasion the British would impress sailors from foreign ships as well. A girl whose boyfriend/husband was impressed might not learn his fate for years if at all.
From Anglo-Saxon wæs+hæl, "be hale/whole/well," "good health." A song, usually sung at Christmastide (especially on Twelfth Night), wishing good health in drinking (i.e. serving as a toast) and perhaps requesting a part in others' festivities.