whistling past the graveyard

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whistling past the graveyard

Post by Archived Topic » Tue Nov 16, 2004 7:29 am

The origin of the phrase isn't important, but I wonder what the meaning really is... False optimisim in the face of gruesome reality?
Submitted by John Burton (Carthage - U.S.A.)
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whistling past the graveyard

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Nov 16, 2004 7:44 am

John, To my very great surprise this fairly common expression did not appear in any sources I checked. I’d say, though, that from my sense of the phrase and checking some Google hits, that your definition is just about right.

It is very similar to the expression WHISTLING IN THE DARK. The only nuance of difference, in my opinion, is that perhaps ‘whistling past the graveyard’ has a bit more of the pejorative element of burying one’s head in the sand rather than facing reality. ‘Whistling in the dark’ is often considered a positive thing to do to try to call up one’s hopefulness in a difficult or frightening situation – keep up one’s courage. “She knew they must be lost and that they were just whistling in the dark.”

‘Whistling past the graveyard,’ however, I think more often has the additional element of also turning a blind eye to something you should be attending to and thus it is often used as “stop whistling past the graveyard,’ especially in business and political contexts – stop deluding one’s self and ignoring the obvious. “Let's have positive economics, and stop whistling past the graveyard.”
_________________

Ken G – July 7, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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whistling past the graveyard

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Nov 16, 2004 7:58 am

Thanks. I agree more with your analysis than mine, Ken. I've heard the phrase often, and usually know what is meant by it from context. This morning I read Arianna Huffington's piece in Salon, and wanted to be sure of her meaning:

"The Republican attacks on Edwards as 'unaccomplished and inexperienced,' 'out there in left field' and, above all, 'Kerry's second choice,' sound like wishful whistling past the graveyard."
Reply from John Burton (Carthage - U.S.A.)
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