As a wordsmith, I love reading the history behind common phrases. Here’s one that has a Hoosier origin. You might think I made this up (and you’d be correct).
Despite the popular belief that the saying “It takes two to tango” is of Argentinian origin, it actually originated in Noblesville, Indiana at the turn of the century—1900, that is. Red-blooded Hoosier Ralph Yackerman loved to dance, but ever since his fifth wife ran away with a feed salesman, he hated women…and men, for that matter. And so, dancing was virtually eliminated from his social calendar. Although many would have considered it a substantial drawback, Yackerman practiced dancing in his home day and night, partnerless to be sure, but with no less fervor than would be expected of a Hoosier farmer, raised to bring passion and dedication to every endeavor.
Then one day to Yackerman’s great delight, he read in The Times that the local dance hall was having a tango contest. Here was a dance that Yackerman had always adored, convinced that the addition of a partner was an unnecessary affectation by love-smitten Latinos.
The night of the contest was hot and muggy, and while some of the dancers seemed a bit sluggish, Yackerman was in rare form, whirling himself around the dance floor, snapping his head, twisting his body, contorting his back, all without a partner. All eyes were on Yackerman.
When the contest concluded, Yackerman was convinced he had prevailed, only to discover that he placed fifth out of a possible six, beating only the Goodbottoms, an overweight couple who had made the three-day journey from Oolitic. The Goodbottoms had never tangoed before and were shocked to learn that the dance was not only very erotic, but was twice as aerobic as they could handle.
What had been planned as a prelude to lovemaking resulted in a trip to the nearest ER where the Goodbottoms distinguished themselves as the only documented case of a dual cardiac arrest by a married couple.
Yackerman, who had already worked himself into quite a lather just dancing alone, was especially put off by Norman Crabshank, the judge, who scribbled a note to Yackerman that said: “Sorry, Ralph, but it takes two to tango.” This so infuriated the solo hoofer that he showed the note to the local newspaper editor, Sal Muleman, and tried to convince him that he was the victim of some kind of discrimination.
Muleman printed the note in the paper and before long the phrase, “It takes two to tango” caught on. Other dance studios tried to adapt the phrase to their needs, but “It takes two to fox trot” just didn’t have the same ring. “It takes four to fox trot,” had a nice sound, but it was inaccurate and thus had little chance for success.
Within months, everyone was trying to work the phrase into conversation. At Farley’s Diner you’d hear people say things like: “You know, I think I better have bacon with those eggs. After all, it takes two to tango.” Or at the feed store, you’d hear old timers like Zack Newhouse saying, “I better get manure and peat moss…takes two to tango, ya know.”
So there you have it. Next time you use the phrase “It takes two to tango,” think of Ralph Yackerman. Next time you do the tango, think of the Goodbottoms.
– Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@ aol.com