I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
If you've ever been a member of Scouts, Guides, Brownies, any church groups, or been on jolly coach trips, you have probably sung the above song hundreds of times (if you're over 50, that is). It's called The Happy Wanderer (although, as far as I remember, we never knew that at the time).
What I want to ask you is .... what do you sing next, after the first verse above? I thought I was singing 'folderee, folderah', but I've noticed different versions on internet sites which give the lyrics: val-deri, val-dera and faleri, falera, for instance.
I've just come across the entry falderal/folderol in the OED with the definition "a meaningless refrain in songs", so this must have been what we were supposed to be singing all those years ago. If you put the word (or write it as 'fal de rol') in a search engine, you will find lots of different songs containing the refrain. The first recorded usage is in the Irish playwright George Farquhar's 1701 work Sir Harry Wildair. A hundred years later a falderal had come to mean also a gewgaw or trifle. The spelling of the word has always been pretty flexible -- and sometimes very flowery, as in another OED citation, this time from Robert Browning's poem Mr Sludge, the Medium in his Dramatis Personae collection: "Fol-de-rol-de-rido liddle iddle-ol".
The song is originally German (called Der Fröhliche Wanderer), was written after the War, and became wildly popular after it won the 1953 Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod. I have just discovered, amazingly enough, that it was in the charts in the week I was born -- in German!! (Listen to a snippet here). You can see the German lyrics, hear more versions and read more about this song than you probably want to know here.