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28 June 2010

Mondays Words - Fiddlesticks

 'Fiddlesticks' is a word often used in historical romance to dismiss something out of hand, as being pure nonsense. Have you ever stopped to think about its origins though?
 Michael Quinion* has this to say about the word:

"A fiddlestick was undoubtedly at first a violin bow. (Both fiddle and violin come from the Roman goddess of joy, Vitula, who gave her name to a stringed instrument; fiddle came down to us via the Germanic languages, violin through the Romance ones.) Fiddlestick is recorded from the fifteenth century, and Shakespeare used a proverb based on it in Henry IV: “the devil rides on a fiddle-stick”, meaning that a commotion has broken out; the imagery is obviously related to the broomstick of a witch, and perhaps there’s some thought behind it of the noise that a fiddle might make if the devil got to play it.
At some point in Shakespeare’s lifetime, it seems fiddlestick began to be used for something insignificant or trivial. This may have been because a violin bow was regarded as inconsequential or perhaps simply because the word sounds intrinsically silly. It took on a humorous slant as a word one could use to replace another in a contemptuous response to a remark. George Farquhar used it in this way in his play Sir Henry Wildair of 1701: “Golden pleasures! golden fiddlesticks!”. From here it was a short step to using the word as a disparaging comment to mean that something just said was nonsense."

Have you any other ideas about where the term may have come from?

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2010. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org/