santa claus is coming to town as performed by bruce springsteen may be the most rockin christmas carol ever. here are three reasons why it is also excellent english practice.
- first of all, it has several examples of better used as a modal auxiliary verb (not a comparative). the first line of the song says
u better watch out, u better not cry
the song is written from the perspective of an adult strongly recommending or maybe even threatening a child to change bad attitudes because santa is coming. as the video below from the richyrocks youtube channel explains it, the consequence of bad behavior (actions) could be…
santa isn’t gonna bring u anything. santa ain’t gonna visit this house. u don’t change your attitude, christmas morning’s gonna be pretty damn sad in this house. cos santa ain’t gonna be here. santa ain’t gonna come.
cos is a reduction of because.
also, frequently the lyrics to santa claus is coming to town are written as
you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry
you’d better is a contraction of the original modal auxiliary had better. in most cases though (including how springsteen sings it) had better is reduced to better.
u better watch out. if you’re naughty, santa will find out.
- there are two useful phrasal verbs in the song lyrics too. watch out can mean to look out of some place, like a window, but it is more commonly used, as it is in this song, to say be careful or as a warning.
find out means discover or learn and is used in reference to information, not physical things. the lyrics say that santa is gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. somehow, santa is able to get information about kids that even their parents don’t know.
the naughty /nice dichotomy is very important to the rise of the guardians version of santa
at 1:15 this richyrocks youtube vid tells it to the kids like this
he’s gonna find out if you’re naughty or nice. if you’re good or bad. if u should get a toy on christmas morning or u shouldn’t. so u might think u were the smart one. mom and dad never found out (to use it in the past tense). mom and dad never found out. santa did though.
when santa finds out that a child’s behavior is bad, that kid is put on the naughty (bad) list. kids on the naughty list don’t get toys.
get me away from this guy for krissakes.
- finally, the lyrics also ask kids to be good for goodness sake. sake indicates purpose, consideration or benefit.
for goodness sake is a nicer version of the more popular for god’s sake or for christ’s sake (written sometimes as for chrissakes or for krissakes) which are both expressions of emphasis, frustration or disbelief.
what else do u know about santa claus? do u know any other iconic figures that are used to influence children’s behavior? share your observations under leave a reply
richyrocks has over two decades of english coaching experience. his philosophy is a strong focus on vocabulary expansion and authentic, fun material.