You are watching: Where does the phrase clean as a whistle come from
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If the derivation of "clean as a whistle" has actually something to perform via a "clean cut," then I propose that the just connection to this explanation is the whistle a sword provides as it leaves its sheath, simply prior to its use. This comes from the encyclopedia of instinct and also widespread feeling.
Etymdigital suggests the first appearance of this expression as 1878.
Take Our Word For It discusses a possible 1786 beginning from a Scottish poet:
Robert "Rabbie" Burns (in his Author"s Earnest Cry, 1786) provides us the initially use of anything resembling the expression clean as a whistle in writing: "Her mutchkin stowp as toom’s a whissle"... this meant "Her pint bucket is as empty as a whistle". ...we conjecture that Rabbie was acquainted through this instrument, the implication being that if a whistle is not clear of obstruction inside, then it will certainly not play appropriately.
The authors likewise attach "clear" (as in the pure sound of a whistle) to "clean":
The Phrase Finder summarizes a number of origin theories, including:the old simile defines the whistling sound of a sword as it swishes with the air to decapitate someone, and an early 1ninth century quotation does indicate this connection: "A first rate swarm.(his) head taken off as clean as a whistle." (Encyclopedia of Word and also Phrase Origins) Robert Burns, in his poem, "Earswarm Cry," supplied "toom" ("empty") quite than "clean" ...various other writers have actually had actually the whistle clear, dry, pure or various other adjective. ...for a sweet, pure sound from a whistle or reed, the tube need to be clean and dry. (Heavens to Betsy & Other Curious Sayings) Anypoint or anyone as clean as a brand-brand-new whistle or as clear as its sound is bound to be good. ... an company or perboy called as "clean as a whistle" has been judged to be guiltmuch less or flawless (Why You Say It)
The Word Detective even more suggests:
The expression actually has actually two meanings: "clean or pure" and also "absolutely, completely." "Utterly or completely" is the original 18th century meaning -- a roof blvery own off in a tornacarry out could be sassist to have been torn off "clean as a whistle," leaving no remnants. The "pure or unsullied" interpretation ("Wash that deck till it"s clean as a whistle, sailor") came later ...Christine Ammer, in her book "Have A Nice Day -- No Problem, A Dictionary of Cliches," points to the phrase "clear as a whistle," extremely common in the 18th century. ..."clear as a whistle" came to suppose "unmistakable" or "unambiguous." ...the subsequent drift of "clean" in the expression to suppose "pure" is what has actually led to folks favor you wondering "what"s so clean around whistles?"
If such a readjust has actually taken location, it might explain why a expression that deserve to be connected to complete, obvious decapitation deserve to also mean innocence or cleanliness.