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A whistling woman and a crowing hen...

Posted by Pamela on March 19, 2007

In Reply to: A whistling woman and a crowing hen... posted by Smokey Stover on March 19, 2007

: : : : : : : Where does the phrase "A whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men" originate? Exactly what does it mean and old how it it? Thanks for your help.

: : : : : : It means that these are traditionally considered unnatural and improper activities for females, and that females who perform them are unnatural and ill-omened. The earliest recorded version of this proverb is Scottish, and dates from 1721: "A crooning cow, a crowing Hen and a whistling Maid boded never luck to a house" ("Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs, Explained and made Intelligible to the English Reader", by J Kelly.) (VSD)

: : : : : Whistling is not difficult, so why does one so rarely see or hear whistling women? One theory is that they don't care for the sound, and have better things to do. Another is rooted in female psychology. Athena is said to have given up the aulos or flute because playing it made her look peculiar and the opposite of beautiful. Perhaps women don't like to whistle because doing so involves something like "making faces." On the other hand, perhaps you remember the movie, To Have and Have Not, in which Lauren Bacall (Slim) says to Humphrey Bogart (Steve): "You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. (She opens his door and pauses.) You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together - and blow."
: : : : : SS

: : : : BBC radio had a program on folklore about why women shouldn't whistle. I can't listen to it on this computer - but it might be interesting. (It's at the bottom of the frist big box - there's another item about whistling higher up which isn't the right one):

: : : :

: : : : I can't whistle at all (so it ain't that easy, Smokey), but I remember trying to mostly because girl's school stories (which I read avidly) were full of cool, whistling girls (who were always in trouble for this and other boyish behaviour). I'm sure that boys and girls probably whistle in equal measure, but girls give up (or are forced to) this behaviour as unfeminine. Alas, some girls take up "screaming at anything"
: : : : as an attention-seeking substitute. Pamela

: : : I don't really buy the "making faces" argument, since the face that's made looks like a kissy-pout, which isn't something women would regard as an unattrative face to make. An intersting issue ... Pamela

: : Pamela, thanks for your information and your URL. The latter gave me some trouble, as they were sound recordings made in a room with poor acoustics and with people speaking British. A woman of U.S. origin mentioned that in "Little Women" one of the girls is deterred from whistling because it is unladylike. The whistler was an astonishing virtuoso, and it would be a great pleasure to hear him show off his repertory. My repertory is large but easy, and is reserved for my cats, whom I notify of the evening curfew by whistling for them, and for the neighbors who have to endure this racket. Mrs. Stover also whistles the cats up when needed, or so she says. I've never heard her, as she is shy about it.

: : I would be very glad to find out if anyone else who uses this site is a whistling woman, or, for that matter, a non-whistling woman.

: This is the emended version, superseding all others.
: SS

Jo was the culprit in "Little Women":

"Jo does use such slang words!" observed Amy, with a reproving look at the long figure stretched on the rug.

Jo immediately sat up, put her hands in her pockets, and began to whistle.

"Don't, Jo. It's so boyish!"

"That's why I do it."

"I detest rude, unladylike girls!"


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