Lying in bed listening to a the tuneful whistle of a man walking to work early this morning started me thinking about the art of whistling. My husband commented that you no longer hear people whistling as much as you used to and we began discussing why this should be.
An obvious answer is that technology has taken over music and people have become more passive, preferring to listen to music than produce music themselves. Many walkers have instant music plugged into their ears and car drivers turn up the sound so their music is relayed free to everyone around.
But whistling goes further back than technology and I decided to find out more about this disappearing habit. Here are a few fascinating whistling facts I discovered.
Whistling a Male Dominated Activity
Whistling is considered to be a male dominated activity. Women attempting to whistle were labelled as unfeminine. I guess that’s why , as a young girl, I was scolded for trying to whistle and constantly reminded, girls don’t whistle.
This theory of whistling is nothing to do with physical features making whistling easier for males as I once thought, but because whistling was considered a form of sexual attraction in ancient times. Remember the popularity of the ‘wolf whistle’ for a young man to show his appreciation of a pretty girl walking by.
Whistle While You Work
Whistling can denote many moods, in particular either happiness as above, or as a way of taking your mind off an unpleasant activity. The song ‘Whistle While you Work’ was written by Frank Churchill in 1937 for the Disney movie, The Seven Dwarfs. The dwarfs made the notion of whistling while you work popular as they carried out their task of sweeping the room. To this day people still whistle at work, often much to the annoyance of workers around them. Whistlers are often unaware they are producing sounds that annoy and disturb those around them.
This kind of whistling should not be confused with work related whistles, such as farmers directing their dogs, or in olden times when whistling was used as signaling to others.
Whistling was considered unlucky or superstitious in many occupations or professions. Actors believe whistling backstage can ruin a performance. If someone was caught whistling backstage in a theatre they’re sent outside to turn around three times and can’t come back in until invited. In other cases they were instantly sacked for bringing bad luck. Sailors believe whistling attracts the wind.
Many cultures have superstitions about not whistling inside because of the bad luck it attracts. I remember hearing my brother being told not to whistle inside because it was bad luck to do so. Russian and Slavic cultures believe you’re whistling your money away, while in Serbia it is thought that whistling indoors attracts mice.
Whistling Illegal in Sullivan’s Island
Whistling can be annoying to others at times, especially if the whistler is not in tune. One of the strangest facts I came across is that whistling is illegal in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. If you whistle there and it disturbs the peace, especially between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am, you’re likely to attract a fine of $500.
Obviously there’s more to whistling than I ever imagined, far too much information to impart here. Whether whistling is used as a method of signalling, an expression of sexual desire, an escape from boredom or an indication of happiness, it seems to be a complex, yet natural human reaction. Next time you hear someone whistling you may want to consider what motivation has caused the whistler to burst into tune.