A wigwam for a goose's bridle
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, and also in New Zealand.
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.
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". 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. It was a common family saying.
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.
Other variations of the phrase
- "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)
- "Whim whams to wind the sun up." (Said by an Englishman of Chester, Cheshire in the years 1930–1940)
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