A wigwam for a goose's bridle

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A wigwam for a goose's bridle is a phrase, meaning something absurd or a nonsense object, or latterly "none of your business". It is an old English phrase from the United Kingdom which later found particular favour in Australia, where its first recorded use is in 1917,[1] and also in New Zealand.[2]

UK origins[edit]

An early recorded use is found in an 1836 magazine article, where the phrase is used by an English sailor whose ship was berthed in Calcutta.[3]

Originally, the phrase was "a whim-wham for a goose's bridle", with "whim-wham" a word meaning "a fanciful or fantastic object". The phrase was deliberately absurd as a goose would never wear a bridle. Folk etymology converted the word "whim-wham"—a word that was no longer much used—to "wigwam", an Ojibwa word for a domed single-room dwelling used by Native Americans. This change retained the phrase's absurd meaning and sense.[4]

Australian use[edit]

In Australia, a common usage is in response to an inquiry such as Q. "What are you making?", A. "A wigwam for a goose's bridle".[5] The rejoinder was a code for "Mind your own business" and children acquired this pragmatic knowledge after repeated discourse with their parents ended with this response.[6] It was a common family saying.[7]

It may have had popular colonial Australian and New Zealand usage due to Chinese immigrants by reference to an Asian geese/duck flock management practice. Many Australian towns had Chinese market gardeners in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A long pole or wand was used to guide a bird, or flock, by tapping the wing while in transit. Hence a wing wand that perhaps became later derivatives, wing wong or wig wam. An additional piece of cloth or similar lure was also tied on the end of the wand to assist in controlling the flock. A long string attached to a bridle was used to train a leader bird, similar to a Judas cow/sheep, to be able to take a flock to a field or waterhole to graze/swim daily. The method is still used today in traditional areas of rural China and SE Asia with ducks and geese.

The phrase is believed to be less popular than it once was.[8]

Other variations of the phrase[edit]

  • "Whim wham for ducks to sit on." (Stated by a woman of English heritage, first of six born (1907) in the US, in Rocks Springs, Wyoming)[citation needed]
  • "Whim whams to wind the sun up." (Said by an Englishman of Chester, Cheshire in the years 1930–1940)[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 30 April 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Tony Beyer". Manukau in Poetry. Manukau Libraries. Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  3. ^ Walsh, Robert; Eliakim Littell; John Jay Smith (2005) [1836]. "Scene in Calcutta". Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art. Philadelphia: E Little. p. 590. First published in The New Monthly Magazine
  4. ^ Ludowyk, Frederick. "All my eye and Betty Martin! The folk etymology of some popular idioms". OzWords. Australian National University : Australian National Dictionary Centre (October 1996). Archived from the original on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  5. ^ Seal, Graham (1999). The Lingo: Listening to Australian English. UNSW Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-86840-680-0. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  6. ^ Wajnryb, Ruth (2008). Cheerio Tom, Dick and Harry: Despatches from the Hospice of Fading Words. Allen & Unwin. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-74114-993-7. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  7. ^ "Fish Trout: Children's Folklore". National Library of Australia. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  8. ^ Chesterton, Ray (9 October 2006). "Aussie lingo facing extinction". News Ltd. Retrieved 13 June 2008.[dead link]