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I once had a 1982 Subaru with three headlights; there was an extra one in the middle that could be turned on independently of the others. We called it a third nostril. Driving in rural Bucks County, PA at night, when a car came towards me I'd turn on the third nostril in the hope of passing for a space alien. They probably didn't think that, but I'd like to know what they did think. In the fullness of time, that car laid down like a sick animal and it just couldn't get up. It stopped eating. I held it and petted it while the vet gave it the injection, and then I buried it in a shoebox in the back yard. Poor little Subaru . . .

Actually, when its time came, I sold it to somebody for fifty bucks. The electrical system was completely shot to hell and the rear wheels couldn't be removed.

Anyhow, with a sufficiency of 1982 Subarus, an overall average of two headlights per car could be maintained indefinitely.
Padiddle (pə´dɪd´l) noun
A. a car (or other vehicle) with one burned-out headlight.
B. a driving game involving the car described in (A).


Everyone who's been driving at night has seen a car with one headlight. Missing headlights are almost exclusively seen on cars, although I've occasionally seen an 18-wheeler or minivan with a light out, and I even spotted a padiddle police cruiser once.

Owning a car with a burned-out headlight is, in many social circles (especially among those who play the Padiddle game described below), a faux pas. If your car burns out a bulb, get it replaced as soon as possible to avoid becoming the laughingstock of all your friends. It's also a safety hazard, and can get you pulled over by the police.

Since the word is most often spoken and not written, "padiddle" is sometimes spelled "pediddle", "pididdle" or "p'diddle". The "a" spelling is the most common spelling on the Intarweb (Google returns 459 results with "a" spelling, 286 with "e" spelling, 218 with "i" spelling, and 178 with apostrophe spelling), and is closer to how I've always heard it pronounced. (Note: "p'diddle" is also slang for clitoral stimulation, so I'd recommend staying away from it unless you're trying to mix metaphors or something.) An alternate name for a one-headlight car is "stalebo", pronounced stə´li´bo, and Community2's marcin says Tom Waits calls it a "one-eyed jack" in one song. Cletus the Foetus says they're called "cadiddles" on Prince Edward Island.


The Padiddle Game is, in its purest form, a competition to notice a padiddle first. The next time you're driving at night, keep a watchful eye for any vehicles with a burned-out headlight — when one appears, whoever yells out "padiddle!" first wins. Be wary, though: calling a false padiddle can earn you a punch in the arm. Common examples of false padiddles are far-off motorcycles (though they can usually be identified by the lack of parking lights), or when only one headlight of a car is visible and the other is obscured by some obstacle.

A common variation is to punch the ceiling of the car you're in when you yell "paddidle!"; doing so makes it much easier to determine who called it first, as it's easier to distinguish the thumps of hands hitting the ceiling. Of course, there are many, many other variations:

  • One of the most popular is Strip Padiddle, normally played boys-against-girls, wherein whenever someone calls the padiddle, all members of the opposite sex remove one article of clothing. Naturally, this can be great fun when you're on the winning team. The driver is normally exempt from stripping due to safety concerns.

  • One friend's variation was that instead of punching the ceiling, whoever called the padiddle first got to punch someone else.

  • My parents used to kiss whenever they saw a padiddle. (Then they had kids, and we started yelling "gross!".) Obviously, this works best for couples driving together, but it may also be a good variation for the very non-competitive.

  • Another friend invented the "Fuckin' Asshole" variation: he punched the ceiling with both hands (even when he was driving) and yelled "Fuckin' Asshole" when he saw a car driving at night with both of its headlights out or off (usually recognized by seeing a car with only parking lights on).

  • A variation described in the Urban Dictionary (under "pediddle") is that whoever calls the padiddle recieves a sexual act of hir choosing from any other member of the car (also of hir choosing). For safety's sake, I can only hope the driver is exempt from performing in this variation.

  • knifegirl (here) describes a variation in which the person who calls the padiddle touches the car's dome light, and everyone else follows in suit; whoever is last recieves a punishment (probably a punch). My dad says he remembers this variation, too.

  • A search on Google will uncover a scored version of the game. In the most basic form, a point is earned by calling the padiddle and taken away for calling a false padiddle; whoever has the most points at the end of the ride is the winner. Variations include different point values for padiddle configurations involving the lack of parking lights or flood lights; what type of vehicle the padiddle appears on (fire truck, police car, ambulance, 18-wheeler, school bus, Volkswagen Beetle, taxi, farm equipment, etc.); or what season it currently is.

  • Look for other missing lights: a missing tail light is called a "padunkle".

  • (Do you have another variation? /msg me a description of it along with where you learned it and it'll appear here, or stumbit another writeup.)

The game lends itself to the creation of house rules. My favorite is that the word "padiddle" may never, ever be uttered unless in the presence of a padiddle. (This applies always, not just when you're in the car.) If anyone utters The P Word while not in the presence of one, sie earns a free punch. (I justify my typing The P Word here because I never said it aloud while writing this node.)

One of my friends and I engage in healthy competition with the Padiddle Game. Whenever we drive somewhere, we usually see quite a few of them (last night we saw three), so there's no shortage of material. Anyway, we once got into a fierce discussion about who had the upper hand in the game: the driver or the passenger? I argued it was the driver, because sie had the advantage of rear-view mirrors. Ben argued that the driver was supposed to be watching the road, not staring in mirrors for missing headlights. I countered that the heightened awareness of the driver should alert sie to any missing headlights, and since the driver is positioned closer to oncoming cars, sie will see the headlights of oncoming cars before the passenger will (this assumes you're on a straight road). I don't think we resolved the argument.

I don't know the etymology of the word, but I'm insanely curious. The most I've discovered about the word's history is that it is isn't new: Sylvar notes (here) that hir mother learned it in the fifties, and one of my aunts who was born in the mid-forties used to play it as a kid, too. My father (born 1950) remembers the touch-the-dome-light variation from his teenage years.

"Padiddle" can also refer to playing frisbee: "padiddling" is the act of spinning a frisbee on one's finger. See also Padiddlers Association of the World.

Oolong says re: Padiddle, I half-expected this to be another of Puff Daddy's monickers...

doyle says re Padiddle: We had "padiddle" and "geronimo"--one was for a completely burned out light, the other for a light on its last legs--the latter was worth 10 of the former (I think the dull light was the geronimo).

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