Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fiddlesticks and Thunderation!

When I was a kid, I was taught that a lady had to watch what she said. If she was irritated or stumped her toe, there was a definite limit on available words to express her vexation. Even the innocuous darn was forbidden in my house. Often, if that word slipped out, you were reminded that the word meant repairing holes in socks. 

Most of the young people in this day and time probably would have no idea how to go about darning socks. To be completely honest, I don't know much about the process either. There was a glass or wooden
darning egg that the mender inserted in the sock and then with darning needle and thread repaired the hole. If people lacked a real darning egg, they might have made do with a lightbulb or a ceramic doorknob. Amazingly enough, you can find how-to videos about darning socks out on the web. Not that I'm going to take up darning. I'm too busy "darning" all the "threads" of my story together. So I just buy new socks and keep the economy rolling. 

That's Mom and me back in the fifties. (You can see I was already a dog lover then.) Mom's favorite vexation word was always "fiddlesticks" or sometimes just "fiddle." My daughter told me last week that she finds herself saying fiddle now and in the process remembers Mom. That got me wondering about the word and in the process of wondering I discovered a lot I didn't know about fiddlesticks.

See the guys in the photo. They're playing fiddlesticks. Fiddlesticks are traditional instruments used to add percussion to old-time and Cajun fiddle music, allowing two persons to play the fiddle at the same time. While the fiddler plays with his bow, a second person uses a pair of straws, sticks, or knitting needles to tap out a rhythm on the strings over the upper fingerboard (between the bow and the fiddler's fingering hand). This is also called "beating the straws" or "playing the straws." Nobody knows for sure where this technique originated, but some think it probably arose in the eastern United States. The technique has become rarer over time as the music has changed, but numerous examples have been recorded. (Info from Wikipedia)

Obviously my mother's use of the word to express irritation and the odd way of helping a fiddle player's music sound different aren't the only ways fiddlesticks is used. A lot of stores and restaurants are named Fiddlesticks. There's a country club in New York and a town in Florida. And from the images I pulled up on the internet there is a video game where Fiddlesticks is a creepy character. 

Another word I heard sometimes when I was a kid, used mainly by a neighbor who loved to visit and talk away the afternoon, was thunder and thunderation. Tommy was good at telling stories and sometimes laughing at himself in those stories, but when something went sour it was always "thunderation." So I went out on the web to check out that word. An outdoor steel roller coaster that opened at Silver Dollar City in Bransom, Missouri in 1993 is named Thunderation. My neighbor's use of the word pre-dated that by a long time. But here's a photo of the roller coaster. 

But even more interesting is that Thunderation is a scouts' camp song. Now it's mostly the Girl Scouts who claim the song, but I think in the beginning it may have been any scout's or guide's song.  Here are the lyrics. 
"Thunder, thunder, thunderation.
  We are the (Scout/guide) Association.
  When we work with determination
   We create a sensation." 

Sounded as if there might have been some feet stomping to make the thunderation.   Link to Girl Scouts singing Thunderation.

So what about when you were a kid? How were you allowed to express your vexation? Or not?


  1. The only thing I remember being allowed to say was:
    'Zut, zut et zut alors' and please don't ask the exact translation! I think it compares to your 'shoot!'or maybe 'drat!'?
    I have been looking for such a darning egg...I refuse to darn socks though! We have become such a throw away society but there is still a need for that nifty little tool!
    All the best,

    1. You know, Noelle, by the time I said "zut, zut, et zut alors" I probably wouldn't be mad anymore. I'd be smiling even though I don't know what it means. As for the darning egg, as much info as I found out there about on the net about darning socks, I'm thinking you could find one of those eggs. Especially if you were in Amish country.

    2. Darning eggs are very collectible.

  2. Also, fiddlesticks is an archaic term for lacrosse sticks.

    We had to be careful what we said, or we'd be smacked across the mouth.

    1. I did come across that info about fiddlesticks and lacrosse, Debbie. Interesting to learn the history behind words. I'm thinking my grandmother or aunt probably had a darning egg but I can't remember seeing it.

      Always fun to have you comment, Denise.

  3. goodness Ann I always learn something when I read your blog, never knew this about fiddlesticks before just thought it was a silly word . I sent a book that if you have not read am sure you will enjoy, should you not care about it, just pass along to someone else. I learned many things from it and enjoy when I can learn facts from reading.
    thanks for your comments today...
    Paula O

    1. I did get the book, Paula. Thank you so much. I'm going to write you a note, but haven't got that done yet. I so appreciate you thinking about me and I look forward to reading the book to see what I can learn from it.

      And I was like you with fiddlesticks, too. I had no idea about there actually being fiddle sticks. :)

  4. My mother said "mercy" or "merciful heavens" or "for heaven's sake" a lot. I think she also said "fiddlesticks." Seems that I remember her also saying, "Stuff and nonsense" sometimes.

  5. Mine only,under my breath,you might say.I did say ,dog- gone-it and I have no idea where it came from.I don't think you would like to know the words favotite vextation words.Sorry.I love my mom but unfortunately ,she wasn't a christian.

  6. When I get exasperated, I say, "heavenly days." It's something I heard my grandma say my entire life. I get teased about it, but it just comes out naturally.


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