The other day my roommate, a seminarian, was writing a paper. It was about someone named Dinah, who appears in the Book of Genesis. I was unfamiliar with Dinah, but I’ve been informed that she was a woman who was violated, or to be more blunt, raped.

I don’t know about you, but the only other time I’ve ever heard the name “Dinah” is in that song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I’ve never entirely understood what that song was talking about. Today I did some research.

It turns out no one really knows how “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” came to be, despite the fact that it’s a quite famous number. More importantly, only speculation exists as to what the song is trying to say.

There are those who speculate that “Dinah” is in fact the name of a train. I don’t buy that because at one point in the tune “Dinah” is in the kitchen. A train can’t very well be in the kitchen, now, can it? So, let’s assume Dinah is a person. If Dinah is a person, presumably she is a woman.

Along that train of thought, the most commonly held belief is that Dinah is a woman who sounds a horn when it’s time for a group of railroad workers to eat lunch. Upon inspection of the lyrics, one can see from where this assumption is derived. However, after further scrutinization, it becomes readlily apparent that there is far more to this tune than meets the eye.

As the song develops, we find the “captain” repeatedly asking Dinah “to blow her horn.” Apparently Dinah doesn’t want to blow her horn. If she did the captain wouldn’t have to beseech her repeatedly to do so, would he? In fact our captain is described as “shouting.” Shouting is frequently indicative of aggression.

The next thing we know “someone” is in the kitchen with Dinah. In fact, we’re told that someone is “strumming on the ol’ banjo.” At the same time, by virtue of a complete omission of lyrics referring to the matter, we can safely assume that no one has any idea why the captain has stopped shouting, or for that matter, where he has gone. The song plainly makes a point of noting that what’s going on in the kitchen is most definitely NOT lunch.

Hmmmm… So, what precisely is meant by the phrase “strumming on the ol’ banjo,” anyway?

Fe. Fi. Fiddly-i-o, indeed.