Vol.XI No.I Pg.8
March 1974

Stuff About Things

Robert F. Turner

Do you believe in singing with the spirit and the understanding? Well of course you do! So you will be vitally interested in having a correct understanding of the phrase, fine-tooth comb. You know — in that song: Remember that rainy evening I drove you out, With nothing but a fine-tooth comb. Its part of Come Home Bill Bailey.

Through the years I sang that song thinking that she threatened to pull his hair or scratch out his eyes with a fine-tooth comb. Didnt seem likely she could beat him over the head with it. Then, while delving into some of the deeper things, it occurred to me that this might be allegorical language— a treasure in a trope, so to speak. Yes, we should first consider all passages in the most obvious literal sense. The Greek is of little help in this case, there being (to my knowledge) no Greek manuscript; and if there were, the context has to determine figurative usage. But here I believe the context favors an allegorical interpretation. Hear me out!

Bill Bailey was a man. She moaned for him; promised to cook, pay the rent, etc., if he would return. No man could be run away from something like that with a fine-tooth comb used as a literal weapon. And notice she says, I know I done you wrong. We must try to reconstruct the scene and apply real interpretive talent.

Considering the fine-tooth comb figuratively, we have an instrument that represents nit-picking— searching endlessly for very small object to criticize. Her confession of wrong doing also leads me to believe that these small things were not actual errors, worthy of criticism-- (these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Matt. 23:23) but they were evidence of her overly critical nature— doubtful disputations about matters of opinion, (See Rom. 14:). In modern speech or amplified versions it might read, I drove you out of my life by continually pick-picking, nag-nagging, about many things of no real consequence. (RFT)

Now that fine-tooth comb has driven many a man from his home, man a church-member from the assembling with saints, many a preacher to selling insurance, even though the latter end may be worse than the beginning.

There are some powerful lessons a right understanding of what we sing.