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Fiddlesticks, pronounced fdl-stks is used frequently in the Southern United States to express a loss of patience or mild annoyance. There's a subtle difference in degree of vexation between this word and fiddle-dee-dee, with fiddlesticks being a bit more irritated. A quaint word it has an interesting history in literature. It comes from the singular form of the word, fiddlestick which is as you might imagine is a bow with which to play a fiddle or violin.

Violin or bow both derive from the Roman goddess of joy and you might be surprised to know that it is one of The Bard’s creations. Guesses as to how many words Shakespeare added to English range from a few hundred terms to more than 10,000. One source says that many experts feel the most accurate estimate is probably around 1,500 words:

    Shakespeare, who employed more than 20,000 terms in his plays and poems, is the Renaissance writer whose inventiveness and creative wordplay are considered to have had the greatest impact on our daily vocabulary.....Bardophiles and Bardophobes alike tend to think Shakespeare used mainly unfamiliar terms ranging from oaths like gadzooks (meaning God’s hooks and referring to the nails used in the Crucifixion) and zounds (meaning God’s wounds) to archaisms like bodkin (a type of dagger) and forsooth (a synonym of truly). But The Bard’s linguistic creations reach far beyond the odd and obsolete. From assassination to zany, Shakespeare has given us words we encounter daily in fields ranging from advertising, business, law, and medicine to social occasions such as dinner engagements and romance.

So how, I mused, does this word goes from joy to annoyed?

    Oh For The Joys Of Parenthood!
    Oh Fiddlesticks!!! Over Run Toylet..
But no, Vitula the goddess of joy gave her name to the stringed instrument violin, while fiddle comes from the Germanic language. It's first recorded in print sometime during the fifteenth century and Shakespeare takes it on as a proverb in his Henry IV. "The devil rides on a fiddlestick" is the phrase he uses. The scene is set at the Boar’s Head. First Bardolph charges in to alert everyone that the sheriff’s officers are at coming. Soon a hostess rushes in putting her guests on their guard. But the prince says, "Here’s a devil of a row to make about a trifle" or "The devil rides on a fiddlestick" (1 Henry IV., ii. 2), and hides his companions, then confronts the sheriff’s officers and intimidates them. The imagery is connected to a witch riding on a broomstick and a connection could be made to the sound a fiddle would make if the devil were to play one. So too does the Charlie Daniel's Band 1979 classic Southern rock ballad of an old folk tale sping to ming in the song Devil went down to Georgia about a fiddling contest between the devil and a boy named Johnny. The original tale, known variously as Olde Nick Hath A Mandolin Fine,Thee Lute Of Thee Damned and Tommie Fiddlepants Burns Yet In Hell, actually tells of a young lad named Tommie. Charles Dickens, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher and others, use the phrase. "Fiddlesticks!" as an exclamation, means rubbish! nonsense! Fiddlestick also appears in the great German epic called The Nibelungen-Lied, used in several instances denoting a broadsword.
    "His fiddlestick he grasped, `twas massy, broad, and long,
    As sharp as any razor." Stanza 1,841.

    "My fiddlestick's no feather; on whom I let it fall,
    If he has friends that love him, 'twill set them weeping all." Stanza 1,880.

    "His fiddlestick, sharp-cutting, can hardest steel divide,
    And at a stroke can shiver the morion's beamy pride." Stanza 2,078

From the Shakespearean proverb fiddlesticks meant something not worth attention, to fiddle around doing nothing, since the instrument is used in fiddling, hence the implication is that the fiddlestick is even less than the fiddle. Fiddlesticks took on it's more humorous beat in 1701 when George Farquhar used in his play Sir Henry Wildair : "Golden pleasures! golden fiddlesticks!". After this it was a quick jump from a disparaging word about idleness to the current synonym for nonsense. What it all boils down to is much ado about nothing.

Selected Sources:

Coined by Shakespeare:

The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

World Wide Words:


End Notes: I used this expression in the chatterbox one day and sensei messsaged me as to what I meant by it. I was preparing this write up for him when he left and it was too painful at the time to finish. So I thought I'd get it out and polish it up for you today. His confusion was understandable because at the time there was a write up here saying in meant BS to put it politely. Not surprisingly it's used a lot in the United Kingdom too. 'Very english, that,' says user BlueDragon, 'used instead of the (f word), much like sugar when meaning s**t, or bother when meaning bugger!' And wertperch also from the United Kingdom relates: "re fiddlesticks: It may also mean 'nonsense', as in "He says he gets £100 an hour for that? Fiddlesticks!" Quite common in England too =)" Thanks guys!

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