"The pump don't work 'Cause the vandals took the handle."

-- Bob Dylan

I came across this sentence in a book. It looks like the author quoted that sentence written by Bob Dylan -- who might be a famous person I guess.

I feel "The pump don't work" doesn't look right because pump is a countable noun and it should take a single verb form, doesn't.

On the other hand, the sentence seems pretty straight forward and I don't understand why it's so famous that deserves to be quoted by the author. Maybe, there is a underlying meaning, which I haven't gotten yet?

P.S. The book's name is The Long Walk, by Stephen King.


"Don’t" used in the third person singular by Bob Dylan is what we would call a “poetic licence” probably meant to have the desired (linguistic/dramatic) effect in the song lyrics:


Don't is occasionally used in American English speech and in historical writing as a contraction of does not (as in, "He don't know where he is going."), but this use is now considered improper and should be avoided. Remember that in modern speech and writing, don't cannot be used in the third person singular.


  • Is there any underlying meaning for that sentence? – dan Oct 9 '18 at 12:51
  • 1
    @dan - lyrics are always open to interpretations. It just looks literal to me. – user070221 Oct 9 '18 at 13:03
  • 2
    @dan The song is Subterranean Homesick Blues. A lot of the song seems to be references to the drug culture and counterculture of the time it was written. I'm not sure of the meaning of the sentence in context, as the lyrics are disjointed. The immediately preceding line is "don't want to be a bum you better chew gum". – Deolater Oct 9 '18 at 13:52
  • 1
    Bob Dylan was famous most for his lyrics (certainly not his voice), of which he wrote an enormous quantity. The lyrics are usually creative and flow well, but don't necessarily have any special meaning, except perhaps as a tortured metaphor that no one else would understand without explanation. – Andrew Oct 10 '18 at 17:03

As a singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan is admired for his lyrics. He wrote a vast number of songs, some of them quite long and full of fairly dense narrative -- or, in many cases, clever-sounding gibberish:

Better jump down a manhole, light yourself a candle
Don't wear sandals, try to avoid the scandals
Don't want to be a bum, you better chew gum
The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles

Here we have a stanza full of interesting but generally meaningless rhymes:

manhole : candle
sandals : scandals
bum : gum
vandals : handles.

I wouldn't overthink this, as quite a lot of Dylan's songs contain similar phrases. It's just his style.

As for your original question: It's not uncommon for English speakers to fail to conjugate the verb, although this is usually interpreted as either "country" or "poorly educated" (or both) depending on the context. Examples:

She don't like fish.

They is going to the store.

He write to his momma every week.

Writers and songwriters who like to appeal to the "common man" (such as Dylan) will often use this kind of dialect, even though it's clear from their facility with the language that they know proper grammar.

As with any dialect, I do not recommend mimicking this unless you fully understand how to use it and the full cultural context. There is a fine line between imitation and mockery, and some people might take offense.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.