The Language of the Blues: "CABBAGE"

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This is the grand return of our weekly series, The Language of the Blues, where author and rocker Debra Devi focuses on the meaning and significance of a unique word used in blues song. Come back every week for the latest! Devi’s The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu is now available at!


The blues are rife with food metaphors for genitalia. There’s cabbage, cake, jellyroll, and pie for women, and bacon, hambone, hot dog, jellybean, and lemon for men. Cabbage was also slang for money during the 1940s and 1950s. In “Empty Bed Blues,” Bessie Smith teased:

He boiled my first cabbage and he made it awful hot
When he put in the bacon it overflowed the pot

The use of these innocent-sounding metaphors, however, depended on what the artist judged the audience could handle. On the recording of “Low Down Blues,” Jelly Roll Morton sang:

I got a sweet woman she lives right back of the jail
She’s got a sign on her window “Good cabbage for sale”

During one of his Library of Congress sessions with Alan Lomax, though, Morton changed the last line to the blunter “good pussy for sale.”

“Empty Bed Blues”- James C. Johnson, recorded by Bessie Smith
“Low Down Blues”- Jelly Roll Morton (Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe)

“Empty Bed Blues” – Bessie Smith