Monday, March 05, 2012

Fiddlesticks & other cuss words

Walking out the garage door the other day I caught the tail end of a conversation liberally sprinkled with  the "f" and "s" words animating a mixed flock of 8- and 9-year-olds headed home (across my lawn) from the elementary school up the street. These boys and girls obviously had learned to cuss at home and I never did, another form of cultural deprivation farm kids were subject to back in the good old days.

The situation was so grim that I don't think I heard my dad violate the third commandment more than twice, each time when kicked by a cow. That seemed to be about all that could cause him to really lose his temper. He was OK when Hortense, or whatever other guernsey he happened to be milking, stuck her foot in the bucket --- but a kick set him off. After taking the name of the Lord in vain, he picked up the milking stool and gave her a whack --- kicking back --- on the two occasions I remember clealy because violence of any sort was unheard of in that household.

School was a fairly tame place, too, so I had to wait to learn to cuss --- always the late starter --- until the military intervened. I got pretty good at it, and still can do it, but having signed the KDWD (Keep Dirty Words Dirty) Pledge, try not to. What, after all, is the point of having cuss words if they lose their effect due to overuse?

The other day I hit a patch of ice under snow on the museum patio, fell flat on my back and "oh fiddlesticks" came out my mouth. After making a snow angel (I was down there anyway), I got up and congratulated myself because even in that dire circumstance I'd held the big-gun expletives in reserve.

"Fiddlesticks" was the closest to cursing my mother ever got --- as when she pulled a cherry pie from the oven one time, baked in a prize ceramic dish inherited from her Aunt Laura, set it on a burner of the electric stove to cool, inadvertently turned the burner on high and walked away. The sticky red explosion combined with a minor fire that followed was, for her, a fiddlesticks moment.

So I got to wondering just where "fiddlesticks" came from and turned to Wikipedia, that font of all worth knowing. Not much help, although I did learn that Fiddlesticks is the title of a 1930s animated film, another name for juggling sticks and the name of a character in an online game called "League of Legends."

I already knew that "stick" is an alternate name for a violin (or other stringed instrument) bow.

And then I turned to Google "Images" and came up with the most likely source --- a pair of sticks (chopsticks will do) used to beat out rhythm on fiddle strings as someone else plays the instrument. I have no idea why the term came into use as a minor expletive, but feel better knowing this much.

Al and Emily Cantrell are playing fiddlesticks in the Wikipedia image here, by the way.

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