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Hogamus Higamus

Dreamed c. 1939? by Mrs Amos Pinchot or Claire MacMurray


I just read The Wandering Mind by Michael Corballis, a book praising daydreams and idle time. He said some strange stuff about a poem I thought I knew. From my journal:

On topics I don't know about, Corballis sounds plausible enough, but once he gets going on animal cognition, dreams, ESP or autism--topics I do know first-hand--he's unreliable, making me wary of his other chapters.

For example, here's Corballis on dreams (The Wandering Mind p.156-7):

But you shouldn't rely too much on dreams. William James told the story of a Mrs Amos Pinchot, who had a dream in which she believed she had discovered the secret of life. Half asleep, she quickly wrote it down. When fully awake, she saw what she had written:

Hogamus, Higamus
Man is polygamous
Higamus, Hogamus
Woman is monogamous.
Corballis fails to footnote where William James wrote this. Hmm. I always thought that poem was by Dorothy Parker. And the version of the poem I recall is more elegant: pluralizing men and women lets the final "is" be omitted; it scans better. [see below]

Regardless of origin... Corballis uses, as evidence that dream messages aren't reliable, a dream-given comic poem that's lasted generations because it's a pithy, literate, and quite funny distillation of human sex games. In ten words! Nine if you prefer Parker. Whoever. It seems to me Corballis's example disproves his own thesis.

I also think those supposed nonsense lines "Hogamus Higamus" and "Higamus Hogamus" are what make the poem work. They imply both genders are attention-hogs jealously squealing out ballads--flip sides of the same record. Also, these piggy chants clash wonderfully with the sophisticated vocabulary and concepts of the other two lines. And yet (in the version I know, below) they rhyme and scan perfectly and concisely. That's why, even if Corballis is right and you find the dream trivial and/or wrong... it's still funny.


QuoteInvestigator.Com found the earliest published version to be the following.

Around Thanksgiving 1939, Claire MacMurray published a newspaper article on dreams in the Cleveland Plain Dealer titled "Thanksgiving Nightmare." In it, MacMurray writes of various dreams, including one by a Mrs. Amos Pinchot:

She dreamed one night that she had written a poem so beautiful, so wise, so close to the ultimate truth of life that she was immediately acclaimed by all the peoples on the earth as the greatest poet and philosopher of all the ages. Still half asleep as the dream ended, she stumbled out of bed and scribbled the poem down, realizing that she must take no risk of forgetting such deathless lines. She awoke in the morning with the feeling that something wonderful was about to happen—oh, yes! Her poem.

She clutched the precious paper and, tense with excitement, read the words she had written. Here they are:

Hogamus Higamus
Men are Polygamous
Higamus Hogamus
Women Monogamous
This is the version I knew; more concise, better-scanning. Despite the clear attribution, QI rates its authorship inconclusive, because an article in the early 1940s said Mrs Amos Pinchot denied it was hers. For numerous variants and alternate attributions (including Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash and William James while high on nitrous oxide) see

I think for now we must attribute this to Claire MacMurray herself, or to the wife of some less-famous Amos Pinchot, perhaps in the Cleveland area. There's no law saying there couldn't be two, after all. Or that Gertrude Pinchot (the nationally known Mrs Pinchot) just found her dream-poem, and its piggish popularity, so embarrassing that she disowned it.

Dreams, you know.

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