whet one's whistle

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whet one's whistle

Post by Bozo » Mon Apr 04, 2005 11:36 pm

I happened to be travelling out in western Queensland (Australia)for work recently and came across a "bush" poem in a pub which referred to imbibing an icy cold beer(XXXX) to "wet your whistle". I broached the subject with the publican that 'wet' should indeed be spelt 'whet'(Please correct me if I'm mistaken). He looked at me blankly and passed me off as some smart arse city slicker talking bullshit. From then on my beer was served some 10 degrees warmer - great if your a Pom but not pleasant in 40degree plus heat.
Can one 'wet' their whistle as well? Your thoughts / comments are appreciated.
Regards,
Bozo
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whet one's whistle

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Apr 05, 2005 4:26 pm

Personally, I'm a "whet" man, and I think you are right, you want to sharpen your whistle, not drown it.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

whet one's whistle

Post by dalehileman » Tue Apr 05, 2005 4:50 pm

"Wet" is right (at least over here). You can also wet your goozle
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whet one's whistle

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Apr 05, 2005 8:30 pm

Boz, You can do whatever you want with your whistle, but I have always WET MY WHISTLE. Sharpening or ‘whetting’ one’s whistle would seem to be an intermediary operation that would do little to quench one’s thirst. The history of this expression is well-known, and among etymologists there is no dispute about its origin, and among speakers, I believe, little question about its use and meaning – but of course, mavericks are free to do as they please with their personal whistles. And BTW the confusion here of ‘wet,’ drink, with its homophone ‘whet,’ ‘to sharpen, make keener, stimulate,’ arose from confusion with its use in the expression WHET ONE’S APPETITE, which speaks of sharpening, not moisture.

WET ONE’S WHISTLE, means to have a drink (water, etc. – 1386; alcohol – 1440). <“I’m going to take a break from digging these post holes and wet my whistle.”> The expression most likely alludes to the fact that it is difficult to whistle with dry lips/mouth/throat. An old children’s party game involves eating some dry crackers or bread and attempting to whistle. The first to succeed in doing so wins a prize. The chief use of WHISTLE (since the 14th century) as a jocular name for the mouth or throat has been in this phrase. ‘Wet,’ with the meaning take a drink, also has appeared mostly in this expression since about the same time. An early appearance of the two together in this phrase was in Middle English in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
<circa 1386 “So was her jol WHISTLE wel y-WET”— “The Reeve’s Tale” in ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Chaucer>

<circa 1460 “Had She oones WETT HYR WHYSTYLL She couth Syng full clere Hyr pater noster [[The Lord’s Prayer]].”—‘The Towneley Mysteries,’ xiii. page 103>

<1530 “WETE MY WHYSTELL, as good drinkers do, je crocque la pie.’—‘ Lesclarcissement de la Langue Françoyse’ by Palsgrave, page 780>

<1653 “Lets . . . drink the other cup to WET OUR WHISTLES , and so sing away all sad thoughts.”— ‘The Compleat Angler’ by Walton, iii. page 75>

<1682 “WETTING THEIR WHISTLES with the good Ale-pot.”— “Boileau's Lutrin” by N. O., II. page 154>

1722 “I'll give you a Dram to WET YOUR WHISTLE.”—‘Aesop Fables’ by Croxall, xcviii. page 169>

<1836 “Let's have another drop to KEEP MY WHISTLE WET.”—‘Bilberry Thurland’ by Hooteon, II. page 8>

<1850 “The wine shall be kept to WET YOUR WHISTLE.”—‘David Copperfield’ by Dickens, vii.>
(Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, American Heritage Dictionary of Clichés, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Picturesque Expressions by Urdang)
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Ken G – April 5, 2005
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whet one's whistle

Post by Bozo » Tue Apr 05, 2005 10:49 pm

Ken - Thankyou for your learned response, although I (as a maverick) still beg to differ that imbibing a beer (wetting one's lips/mouth) provides the moisture (for a dry and parched mouth) to "whet one's whistle".
Bozo

Bob in Wales - Thanks for the vote of confidence
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whet one's whistle

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Apr 06, 2005 8:07 am

Bozo, I'm still with you. Chaucer couldn't spell anyway! I must say the rest of the evidence seems convincing though.
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whet one's whistle

Post by russcable » Wed Apr 06, 2005 3:52 pm

IMHO, sharpening your whistle (by running a course stone over your mouth which is a rather unpleasant image in itself and should probably only be done by a licensed dental practitioner) would only be useful if you tended to whistle flat or perhaps if you wanted your rendition of "Dixie" to sound harsh or strident.
In an unrelated yet somehow related topic, players of reed instruments (clarinets, saxophones, oboes, etc.) do in fact almost always WET their whistles (the reed parts) prior to playing and if the reed cracks they may sometimes WHITTLE or WHET their whistles as well. And all wind instruments become wet while being played (please refrain from opening your spit valve in my general direction!).
I can also remember having policeman-type whistles that imployed a cork ball which if allowed to completely dry out would require a period of nearly fruitless blowing until the cork was properly rehydrated.
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whet one's whistle

Post by waspie » Thu Apr 07, 2005 5:40 pm

Just thought i would add another version to the "whet your whistle" debate.
"In the noisy dockside taverns of old, calling for more ale was a demanding process. So rather than try to shout over the general hubbub, those who could afford to had a whistle built into the handle of their tankard. The barmaid’s attention could then be attracted by the “whetting” (literally meaning stimulus) of your whistle. The phrase “to whet your whistle” later came to mean the pouring of liquid down the throat; whilst being “whistled” in itself became slang for the consequences of having WHISTLED TOO MUCH"
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whet one's whistle

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Apr 07, 2005 6:29 pm

Steve, where did that snippet come from?
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whet one's whistle

Post by Mel » Sat Apr 09, 2005 12:19 am

I think waspie made that one up.

It reminds me if a definition I saw for "Rule of thumb".

In medieval times in England you could not beat your wife with anything thicker than your thumb.

Ahem.
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whet one's whistle

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Apr 09, 2005 1:59 am

Mel, Waspie didn’t have to make that one up – it’s already an old genuine urban legend / folk etymology, bullshit story. Michael Quinion discusses it below and I believe I recall seeing it while browsing in the bookstore in Dave Wilton’ new book ‘Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends.’

It was interesting to learn that the alternative “whet your whistle” was over 300 years old, and if Quinion says that’s true, it probably is. But it would have been nice if he cited an example - I failed to find one after doing a fairly decent search.
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World Wide Words

[Q] ‘Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. “Wet your whistle” is the phrase inspired by this practice’. I find this explanation too pat and so immediately distrust it. Can you help?”

[A] You’re right to distrust it. These e-mail pieces are fun to read, but they combine a morsel of truth with a large serving of invention. They lie at one extreme of the spectrum of folk or popular etymology, and they’re a very good illustration of the way that mistaken ideas about words and phrases can disseminate.

You can be sure that no pub cup or mug ever had a whistle fitted to it for this purpose. If you wanted another drink, you went up to the bar and asked for it; if the place was posh enough to have table service, you most certainly wouldn’t blow a whistle to get attention! You sometimes see such mugs today, but they’re the pottery equivalent of your e-mail, a joke on a long-established saying.

In the expression, ‘whistle’ is just a joking reference to one’s mouth or throat and to the fact that one can’t easily whistle when one’s mouth is dry. It’s a very ancient expression: its first recorded appearance is in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ at the end of the fourteenth century, and it must surely be even older.

You can sometimes see the phrase as ‘whet one’s whistle,’ as though it is in need of sharpening. It would seem that those who first wrote it that way—more than 300 years ago—were as unsure of the real source of the expression as many of us are today. I shudder to think what the anonymous writer of your e-mail message might make of that version.
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Ken – April 8, 2005
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whet one's whistle

Post by Bozo » Sat Apr 09, 2005 3:55 am

Whell I'll beh- I cahn whet mhy whistle ahfter ahl.
Rehgards,
Bhozo.
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whet one's whistle

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Apr 10, 2005 4:29 am

Boz, Let’s not get too excited – just because its old doesn’t mean it right or makes any sense! (&lt)
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Ken G – April 9, 2005
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