“I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do.” If you chanted this as a teenager, then odds are you were a Baptist or a fundamentalist (or both!).
If the study of slang language has taught me anything, it’s that people tend to remember the stuff that rhymes. Hence the popularity of such Christianese terms as frozen chosen, sloppy agape, and happy-clappy.
Pastors, preachers, and other Christian leaders are keenly aware of this power of rhyme (or at least they should be!). And so it’s no surprise that moral lessons and codes of behavior have been put in the form of rhymes.
Which brings us to this bon mot: “I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do!” You can’t hardly help bobbing your head or waving your finger with the beat!
This beats the alternative version, which has no grace to it at all: “Thou shalt not smoke, thou shalt not chew, and thou shalt not consort with that Jezebel!” See? It doesn’t rhyme, and so who would bother to remember it?
“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, etc.” has a lot of variations to it, as you can see in the definition below. Different versions of the phrase will caution you against dancing and swearing in addition to the usual drinking, smoking, and chewing. (By the way, that’s chew as in chewing tobacco.)
The earliest roots of this expression are found in the mid to late 19th century when there was a widespread movement in the United States to improve public morals. These efforts were pretty effective, as can be seen by the fact that it wasn’t long before the federal government passed the laws of Prohibition!
But all good things came to an end, and Prohibition was eventually repealed. By the mid-20th century, as the moral standards of the country were relaxing and the booze was once again flowing freely through the streets, it was mostly the Christians who still clung to slogans such as “don’t drink, don’t chew, etc.” And specifically it was the conservative end of the Christian spectrum who kept the phrase alive. We’re talking here about Southern Baptists and other fundamentalists.
Finally, as is the case with many rhyming phrases, it wasn’t long before the expression became a hackneyed cliché. In fact, if you have heard someone say this phrase at any time since the 1980s, you probably heard it in the context of ironic humor or wistful nostalgia.
Ah yes, truly those were the good old days, when you could memorize all the important moral lessons you needed as neatly rhymed couplets.
What other rhyming slogans do you know that are intended to promote Christian behavior?
smoke or chew In full don’t smoke or chew, and don’t go with girls (or boys) who do. A slogan intended to affirm the importance of a lifestyle of personal piety and temperance; a slogan intended to declare one’s personal adherence to such a lifestyle. (Note that the verb chew in the slogan refers to chewing tobacco.)
The slogan frequently varies with regard to the activities being prohibited, such as don’t drink, smoke, or chew… ; don’t dance, drink, smoke, or chew… ; don’t cuss (or swear), dance, drink, smoke, or chew…. Often the rhythm and meter of the slogan are deliberately structured so that the word chew rhymes with the word do. For example: “I don’t drink, and I don’t chew; and I don’t go with girls who do.”
The slogan is associated with Baptists, fundamentalists, evangelicals, and other conservative Christians (see various citations).
Since the 1980s the slogan has typically been used ironically or with humorous intent.
The slogan apparently had its origins in sayings that were popular in the mid to late 19th century in the American abstinence and temperance movement. For example, Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) is said to have been fond of quoting this moral code to his children: “Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t chew. Don’t swear. Don’t gamble. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Love your fellow man, as well as God. Love truth. Love virtue, and be happy” (The Bond of Union: The Organ of the Baptist Total Abstinence Association (Aug. 1884) 125).
The use of this slogan as a Christian moral code separate from the temperance movement is alleged to go back to the early 20th century (see citations for 2001, 2004, 2013). However, because the slogan is used primarily in the Christianese oral tradition, examples of the slogan in a strictly Christian context in print have been located only as far back as the early 1960s.
For more information, see *piety slogans.
1961 United Church Herald IV. 139 : Help him see that religion is not an “I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls who do” set of restrictions, but rather a free, creative, appreciative response of the whole person to the love of God. 1963 Presbyterian Life XVI. vii : Let us, then, admit that defining sin by a catalog of little “sins” leads at best to a sterile kind of virtue, to the kind of “Christian life” which has been caricatured in the doggerel about the Christian who “doesn’t smoke and doesn’t chew and doesn’t go with girls who do.” 1967 Myers When Crisis Comes 27 : I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, I don’t go with boys who do! As if to say sin is a matter of a few bad deeds. 1969 Warner The Home Team Wears White: Unsung All-Americans on the Number One Team 77 : Dad Mistele had always wanted Bob to attend Wheaton College near Chicago, but Bob scorned the campus as someplace where “they don’t smoke or chew or go with girls that do.” 1975 J. of Presbyterian History LIII. 210 : He tells a story not unlike the saga of many “preachers’ children,” but the vividness of his report is especially revealing: … “Of course there was no dancing, card playing, no show on Sunday. There was the Sunday evening youth meeting. There was church every Sunday evening. Then, ‘dont smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do.’ Eight of us learned to read by reading the Bible morning and evening at family devotions [etc.]” 1978 Mullen Seriously, Life Is a Laughing Matter 77 : Eating is one of the acceptable indulgences for Christians. Many of us were brought up to believe that certain activities were not options for us. We weren’t allowed to drink, dance, or hit night spots. A childhood jingle stated the matter succinctly: “We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do.” 1979 Sholes Give Me That Prime-Time Religion 79 : “Students don’t smoke, and they don’t chew, and they don’t truck with those who do!” Baloney! I’ve known ORU students (who are now on the ORU staff) who had refrigerators hidden in the dormitories which they kept filled with beer. 1981 Dobson, Falwell, Hindson The Fundamentalist Phenomenon: The Resurgence of Conservative Christianity 155 : The banner of Fundamentalism became: We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do! 1990 Mossholder Marriage Plus: The Bible and Marriage 173 : In the days when I was “churched,” before I repented and really gave my life to Jesus Christ, I had what I considered a sure-fire Christian creed: “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew. And I don’t go with the girls who do!” 1991 Robbins Youth Ministry That Works 57 : Some would say that a teenage disciple of Christ is a young person with short hair and middle-class values who doesn’t “smoke, drink, cuss, chew, or go out with girls who do.” 1993 Sjogren Conspiracy of Kindness 82 : One brief set of rules states, “Don’t dance, drink, smoke or chew, or go with those girls who do.” In theological terms these are called sins of commission. 1995 Chalcedon Report iss. 354–365 22 : The mediocrity of Evangelical culture and the Philistinism of much American Reformed culture, is an application of the old Baptist dictum, “We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do.” 1999 Horsley Into the Wind 25 : The Christian Right doesn’t smoke, drink, or chew or go with girls who do. The Christian Center ends up marrying the girls who do. The Christian Right says Jesus is the Answer. The Christian Center says What’s the Question? 2000 Fides et Historia XXXII. 23 : This is undoubtedly related to the fact that the moral codes of fundamentalists and evangelicals more often elicit amusement, caricature (“don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go out with girls who do”) and even disdain from those outside the subculture. 2001 Packer God’s Plans for You 200 : Fifty years ago evangelicals taught Christian living legalistically: “Don’t smoke or drink, cheat, lie, or chew/and don’t team up with those who do.” In those days avoiding the world’s defilements was the main concern. 2003 Mansfield Everything I Learned About Theology 25 : This often leads to stringent rules, cultural traditions and behavior that have little to do with authentic Christianity, sometimes humorously categorized as “I don’t drink, I don’t chew, and I don’t go out with girls that do.” 2004 Russell 70 : The school had a reputation for attracting pious young girls. One song that the girls sang while Lady Bird was in residence [from 1928 to 1931] had the following lyrics: “Root-a-toot-toot, root-a-toot-toot, we’re the girls from the institute. We don’t smoke and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with boys who do.” 2007 McKinley The Life You Were Born to Give: Why It’s Better to Live Than to Receive 145 : I am a Southern Baptist. And many of you know what they say about Baptists: “We don’t drink, smoke, cuss, or chew—or go out with girls who do.” 2007 Zoba The Beliefnet Guide to Evangelical Christianity xiv : In the years following World War II, … evangelicals were often distinguished more by a behavioral lifestyle than by doctrine: “We don’t drink, smoke, dance, or chew, and we don’t go with girls who do.” 2009 Kell Against the Wind: The Moderate Voice in Baptist Life 119 : I know some other folks who call themselves Bible-believing Baptists, and by that they mean they “don’t drink, don’t chew and don’t go with girls who do.” 2009 Lagasse Divorce and Remarriage by the Book 212 : Then there are the churches that say, “I don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do.” All of this is an external form or legalism of sorts that has nothing to do with the Christian community. 2010 Lustrea What Women Tell Me: Finding Freedom from the Secrets We Keep 191 : The schools I attended required us to adhere to behavioral pledges. We weren’t allowed to drink, dance, smoke, or chew. Or, as the wisecrack saying goes, “hang around those who do.” Even now as an employee of a parachurch organization, I am expected to follow lifestyle rules. 2011 Rinehart Moving from Judgment: How to Have an Open Heart in a Closed World 95 : Churched Christians also have a very well-defined inside language sometimes jokingly referred to as “Christianese” …. An entire litany of personal behavioral expectations is widely promulgated, shunning those who might “drink, smoke, dance, or go with girls that do.” 2012 Shafer Laugh, Love, and Lift 161 : A quip that used to circulate among conservative churches … “Don’t play cards, smoke or chew and especially don’t date girls who do.” 2013 George Jesus Changes Everything: It’s Time to Embrace God’s Unconditional Love 29 : In the early twentieth century, for example, it was simply assumed that “Christians don’t drink, smoke, or chew, or run around with girls who do.”