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Aledo Times Record - Aledo, IL
To Whistle or Not to Whistle, That is the Question?
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By Gary DeNeal
Gary DeNeal is the editor and publisher since 1985 of Springhouse, a bi-monthly magazine focusing on the history and lore of southeastern Illinois.
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By Gary DeNeal
Jan. 25, 2013 1:41 p.m.



In his Sacred Journeys in a Modern World, Roger Housden writes that travelers in the Sahara often wear a long scarf called a jelaba as protection from the elements. That makes sense. However, some who live in the desert believe the jelaba also keeps evil spirits from entering the mouth or nose.

No-nonsense types dismiss such spiritual concerns as a harking back to the Dark Ages, thus having little or nothing to do with 2013. Not so fast. The passage mentioned above is memorable because I once knew a southern Illinoisan who refused to whistle for fear the Devil would slip into his person by way of the melody. Others likely believed the same. It could be a few still do.

With hazards of whistling in mind, I turn to Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases of Illinois, a useful work to have on hand whether in a whistling mood or not. Published by SIU Press in 1965, and edited by Frances M. Barbour, the book is crowded with print so small it is barely readable without a magnifying glass. The final word is at hand, or is it?

Expecting a wealth of Devil/ whistling references, I find the following:

 

1. Clean as a whistle.

2. Keen as a whistle.

3. Slick as a whistle.

4. You can’t make a whistle out of a pig’s tail.

 

Also included, is that old standby “Whistling in the dark,” which happens to be a line by John Dryden, the poet and scholar who so detested sentences ending with prepositions, most of us still shy away from such usage, that according to C. S. Lewis.

If we rely on folk sayings handed down, (and who among us doesn’t?) it would appear whistling is a minor pleasantry, no more or less important than whittling, or doodling, or watching TV.

But what if folk sayings merely gloss the surface?

That question returns us to the beginning, i.e., the quaint conviction held by a few that the act of whistling is too dark an invitation ever to be extended. It does sound pretty odd. Too bad we don’t have John Dryden to solve this burning question once and for all. Of course, if still alive Dryden would probably not respond, busy far too busy weeding prepositions from the tail end of sentences.

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