A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

In "A Boy Named Sue," what's Johnny Cash saying during the bleeped out part?

October 31, 2000

Dear Straight Dope:

In the Johnny Cash song "A Boy Named Sue" (the live version performed at Folsom prison), toward the end of the song a word or phrase is bleeped out. "Well, you ought to thank me before I die, for the gravel in your guts and the spit in your eye, 'cause I'm the BLEEP that named you Sue." I can imagine what it could be but I want to know what he really said.

SDStaff Songbird replies:

"He said, 'Son, this world is rough, and if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough'" — luckily, Joe, you've got the Straight Dope to help you along.

We consulted an old vinyl copy of Johnny Cash's 1969 album Live from Folsom Prison (or "record" for those of you over 30 and searching for a cheap stylus so you can play the Beatles' White Album backwards just one more time). The bleep was added in the mixing room, not at San Quentin, because censors were much more sensitive than prisons in 1969.

Johnny's colorful bleeped out phrase is "son of a bitch."

But the original word was "nut" as written by none other than writer, illustrator, composer and Chicago native Shel Silverstein (who also wrote the Dr. Hook single "On the Cover of the Rollin' Stone"). Silverstein was born the same year as Johnny Cash (1932), but after giving us a different point of view, sadly, left us in 1999.

"And I think about him, now and then — every time I try and every time I win. And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him … Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!"

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