Russell, The NOODLE
has meant the human head since the mid-18th century. The derivation of the word is not known for sure, but it is probable that it came from the word ‘noddle’ originally meaning ‘back of the head’ in the 15th century and which then becoming a humorous colloquialism for just ‘head’ in the 16th century. And, in fact, the pronunciation of ‘noodle’ appears with the spelling ‘noddle’ in a 1664 rhyme (see quotes below). Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, ‘noodle’ has been in much more common use than ‘noddle.’ The similar word ‘noggin’ dates either from the early 17th century (Random House) or the mid-18th century (as boxing slang, according to the OED) depending on who you choose to believe.
But ‘noodle’ as we use it figuratively today to mean not just the physical head, but intelligence, brains, the mind, the intellect, only came into its own in the 20th century and I can attest to the fact that it was in wide use in the mid-20th century because I often heard my parents say ‘use your noodle!’ and ‘that was really using your noodle.” However, ‘noddle’ was used figuratively to mean “the seat of the mind or thought (frequently in contexts suggesting emptiness or stupidity)” as early as 1579. The older and parent expression for ‘use one’s noodle’ was ‘use one’s head’ and that phrase dates from the 1300s.
NOODLE also has other related meanings including: 1) A stupid or silly person, a simpleton, a fool, an idiot, a lunatic (used colloquially since early 18th century 2) to fool or dupe (1769), ‘noodle out of’– now obsolete. 3) to think, to brainstorm; to mull something over, work something out as in ‘noodle up/out’; to think, especially. to reflect or muse in an unproductive or undirected way; to act lightheartedly (also with ‘about,’ ‘around’); (also) to experiment in an informal, tentative manner. (1940s and still in use)
<1579 “The diuell . . . putteth into their braines and foolishe NODDLES to make great shewes.”—‘Calvin’s Sermons on Timothy’ translated by L.Tomson, page 655/1>
<1664 “Where sturdy Butchers broke your NODDLE, / And handled you like fop-doodle”—‘Hudibras’ by S. Butler> [[note that ‘noddle’ would rhyme with ‘doodle’ giving it the pronunciation ‘noodle.]]
<1762 “What can have got into that precious NOODLE of thine?”—‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’ by L. Sterne, V. xxxviii>
<c1880 “Now, Mademoisell, I never make mistakes . . . I have a great NOODLE. (‘Puts his finger to his head.)”—‘Sam’l of Posen,’ by G. H. Jessop, III, in ‘America’s Lost Plays (1940), IV. page 171>
<1904 “Others are there with the wise NOODLES and will cop the green.”—'Zwilling TAD Lexicon,’ T. A. Dorgan, page 60>
<1943 “Only a man . . .has to . . . USE HIS NOODLE.”—‘Tucker’s People’ by Wolfert, page 69>
<1967 “As soon as that goop back there starts USIN’ HIS NOODLE.”—‘Chatty Jones’ by Talbot, page 91>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
Ken G – May 29, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)