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The meaning and origin of the expression: Middle for diddle

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Middle for diddle

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Meaning

A rhyme used to decide who starts a darts match.

Origin

Middle for diddleThis strange phrase is part of the jargon of the English pub game of Darts. When a game is instigated someone usually calls 'Middle for diddle', meaning 'whoever throws a single dart nearest the middle of the board (the Bulls-eye) gets to start the game proper. 'Middle' is literal but what about 'diddle'? The word has several meanings and it would be convenient for our purposes here if one of them meant 'start' - regrettably that's not so. The meanings of 'diddle' range from:

Cheat or swindle
A slang term for gin
Fritter one's time away
The sound of a fiddle
Walk unsteadily
Have sexual intercourse with

If we were to guess and, with the source of 'diddle' in this phrase unlikely ever to be unambiguous, it has to be a guess, the third of those meanings is what is being referred to in 'middle for diddle'. That meaning was in use from at least 1826 when Sir Walter Scott recorded it in his Journal:

A day diddled away, and nothing to show for it!

The phrase 'middle for diddle' originated in England and almost certainly in a pub. In The Dictionary of Slang, Eric Partridge asserts that it dates from the 1920s, but without offering any evidence for that view. The earliest example that I can find of it in print is in John Moore's fictional account of life in the English Midlands Brensham Village, 1946:

There was a game of darts going on, and I listened with a joyful sense of homecoming to the old absurd backchat: "Middle for diddle".

Note: Brensham was Moore's name for the Worcestershire village of Bredon.

The term has not strayed far from England, although Darts is now played in other countries. In August 1960, the Texas newspaper The Victoria Advocate, took the trouble to print a piece that explained the expression to the American public:

LONDON - "Middle for diddle," shouts a man in a pub. What's he doing? Ordering a drink? Calling partners together for a folk dance? No, sir. It's just the start of another old fashioned English game of darts. "Middle for diddle" means aiming, at the bull's eye in the center of the board to start the game. The man who gets nearest takes first shot.