Shakespeare, James Joyce, and the Dirty Encoding in Britney Spears’s “If U Seek Amy”

Recently, Britney Spears has gotten some buzz by subliminally inserting “Fuck me” into the title of her new music video: “If U Seek Amy.” See it or hear it? Maybe this will help: iF-U-CeeK-aME!

Naughty. But is it a very original play on words? It turns out not. According to Jesse Sheidlower at Slate.com, both William Shakespeare and James Joyce got there first:

[James Joyce] used the “If you see kay” gag in Ulysses. The Irish literary god does in fact appear to be the first person to have used this phrase; in Ulysses, Joyce included a bit of doggerel sung by the Prison Gate Girls:

If you see kay
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me.

In the third line, Joyce manages to encode cunt as well. Take that, Britney!

Joyce isn’t, however, the only great writer to encode dirty words in his work. Hundreds of years earlier, none other than English literary god William Shakespeare used a similar trick. In Twelfth Night, Olivia’s butler Malvolio receives a letter written by Maria but in Olivia’s handwriting; analyzing the script, Malvolio says, “By my life this is my lady’s hand. These be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.” With the and sounding like N, Shakespeare not only spells out cunt, but gets pee in there as well.

Sheidlower also notes that even some other musicians, such as Memphis Slim, have run with this pun before Britney:

Memphis Slim . . . recorded a wistful “If You See Kay,” about his lost girlfriend, in 1963:

If you see Kay
Please tell her I say, “Hurry home.”
Lord I ain’t had no lovin’
Since my little Kay been gone.

The link to the Britney video at YouTube is here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Shakespeare, James Joyce, and the Dirty Encoding in Britney Spears’s “If U Seek Amy”

  1. Ana Teixeira says:

    The band The Script also has a song entitled “If You See Kay”, which they took straight from Joyce

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