Appalachia Cleaning

Clean As A Whistle

Clean as a whistle

Most everyone has heard the saying “clean as a whistle” but do you know where the common phrase came from?

According to the book Why You Say It, written by Webb Garrison, in the old days when whistles were more common and were often hand made it was very important for the inside of the whistle to be clear (or clean) of all debris. Even the smallest particles lingering on the inside could considerably change the sound of a handmade whistle.

So a good whistle had to be absolutely clean which = the saying “clean as a whistle”.


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  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    July 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    I understand! And because whistles were sometimes used to send short messages between places, like on a ship, often in certain bursts or pauses, kind of like Morse Code, debris could change the meaning of a message as well.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    July 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    The ‘slingshot’ Ruth wrote about we called a ‘flip’. The sling shot to us was two leather straps with a pad for the projectile. You swing it around and release one strap to sling the rock. King David didn’t have an inner tube to make a sling. (On that note He did ride a dirt bike. The Bible says’ “His triump was heard through out the land.”)
    As a kid I made whistles from a new growth hickory sprout by tapping the bark loose. We made a lot of our toys. (bows and arrows, pop guns, rubber band powered boats, tractors from mom’s wooden spools to name a few)I don’t remember getting much for Christmas other than clothes and shoes. Once in a while I got a watch, a knife or a couple boxes of 22 cartridges.
    To Miss Cindy, When we said a girl was as cute as a speckled pup we meant she was pretty attractive. If we said she was as cute as a speckled pup sitting in a red wagon we meant she was really something to gaze upon. Any young boy would be thrilled with the pup or the wagon but both would really set his heart a thumping.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    July 22, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I remember my dad showing my brothers how to make a whistle out of cane poles. They also made sling shots, although I wish they’d never learned how to

  • Reply
    July 22, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Paul sure makes a guitar sound
    I’ve heard “Clean as a Whistle” all my life. Thanks for the origin.
    And I’ve made them slingshots like
    B.Ruth talked about. We used the
    fork of a laurel for the main part. You can shoot marbles plum out of sight.
    That beardy family on TV (when
    they find time to work) down in
    Louisiana makes a Duck Caller out
    of wood…Ken

  • Reply
    July 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm


  • Reply
    July 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I remember my Grandpa making whistles. I think he used Pawpaw branches. But I do remember him tapping the branch all over with the handle of his pocket knife to loosen the bark. And I well remember how much trouble he got into from my Grandma if we blew them in the house.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    July 22, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Always thought it meant whistles as they ought to be, not necessarily how they really are.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 22, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Tipper and bunch!
    My comment typos do not bring my soul piece. I mean peese. I mean peas. I mean pease. I mean peace. At any rate have a good week folks!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    July 22, 2013 at 9:34 am

    I remember the saying and using it often, but never thought about the meaning. Good job, Tipper!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 22, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Speakin’ of whistles, does anyone remember how to make that slide whistle out of the slick bark and stem and which tree it was made of? Seems like it was willow!
    My Dad could take his pin knife and whittle a whistle in just a minute or two.
    One time he made one of those whistles that slide!
    I remember him grasping the bark and twisting the twig in his hand to loosen the bark so that it turned free and slid up and down on the fresh green twig. Then he either cut the end some way, and might have stoppered it so when you blew into it, you could slide it and make a funny low and high whistle sound! Being the girl in the family, I only was interested for a short while. We were on one of those family picnics and I was too busy wanting to in the creek!I now wish I had kept it in one of my treasured childhood cardboard boxes…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…However, give me a rubber intertube, a good forked stick, a leather tongue from a shoe and the laces and I can make the best “slingshot” you ever did see!
    and If you shoot marbles out of them you can put a’hurtin’ just about on anything it hits! Ouch, the pain!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 22, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Like Ed, I got it! Now ‘splain
    “Crazier than a June Bug”!
    Speaking of which, the June Bugs here were late. I looked for them everyday during my morning watch!
    One finally showed itsownself yesterditty! Usually the yard is just a buzzin’ with ’em!
    Could the rain have warshed ’em out?
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….I understand “Quicker’n a rooster on a June Bug!” LOL

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 22, 2013 at 7:59 am

    The playlist is gitten stuck on Mrs. Robinson. Click past it and it goes on.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 22, 2013 at 7:58 am

    How about cute as a speckled pup. Do you know where that one came from?
    Tipper these are very interesting. All expressions have an origin somewhere. I shudder at the thought that some things I hear these days will still be around in 50 or 100 years.
    It makes perfect sense that a whistle would have to be clean and clear inside for it to sound true.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 22, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Got it! Now splane “neat as a pin.”

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 22, 2013 at 7:07 am

    I did not know that, we say a lot of things that make no sense in today’s world.

  • Reply
    July 22, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Interesting. Although i’ve said it all my life, never knew where it came from.

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