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whistling

whistling is familiar as the production of a series of high-pitched sounds that form a simple melody or tuneful sequence. Together with humming it may be presumed to be the simplest form of music making, in particular for self amusement, and as such revealing the emotional state of mind of the whistler. The sound of the human whistle, like that in the most primitive instrumental forms — a whistle fashioned from a hollow tube of wood or straw — is made by the turbulence generated in an airstream at the narrow orifice formed by pursing the lips. The pitch and harmonic content of the sound is modulated by the relative position and shape of the tongue and its relation to the lower teeth. And for a particularly loud whistle used as a call, the lips are braced firmly against the teeth, and the tongue deeply arched so that airflow is directed across the sharp edges of the teeth and through the narrow, stiffened aperture at the lips. Unlike vocalization, the whistle is generated by inspiratory as well expiratory flows of air, allowing legato-like sounds to be produced without interruption.

Whistling appears to be a male-dominated activity, perhaps deriving from ancient forms of the ‘wolf whistle’ denoting sexual attraction; this is just one example of the use of the whistle as a call sign, with its obvious links to ancestral ‘call’ signals in lower species, and its ‘imitative’ value in hunting or for summoning a trained hound. The whistling of an improvised or familiar tune by a contented man or woman at work, even of the Seven Dwarfs who proclaim ‘we whistle while we work’, can be contrasted to the variety of other whistles, expressing incredulity, surprise, or appreciation. The latter communicate information about the emotional state solely through the sound pattern, while the former carry the additional symbolic meaning relating to the words in the whistled song, thus encompassing both the mental and the emotional life of the whistler.

Tom Sears


See also singing; speech.

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Whistling

Whistling

Various superstitions are connected with whistling. It has long been considered unlucky for women to whistle. It was unlucky for sailors to whistle aboard ship, because it was thought that doing so might raise a wind. It was also considered unlucky for miners to whistle in a mine, since this might be followed by an explosion.

A more recent superstition is that whistling in a theater or its dressing rooms may cause a play to fail.

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whistling

whistling a whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men proverbial saying, early 18th century; both the woman and the hen are considered unnatural, and therefore unlucky.

See also it is a poor dog that's not worth the whistling for, whistle.

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