A few months back I walked though The Lexiteria to my office whistling and my office manager shortly thereafter stuck her head in the door and said, “I’ve never heard you whistle before.”
Well, it had been a long time since I had whistled and I wondered why. Now I’ve had time to observe and I’ve come to the conclusion that no one in the US whistles any longer; we are no longer a whistling nation. When I was growing up, people whistled popular tunes all the time. It was a sign that we were happy, in a good mood, at peace with the world. We don’t do that any more.
Since whistling is another type of oral communication, it strikes me as fair game for this blog. I think it is time we began asking ourselves why whistling has died out and I offer this blog as (so far as I know) a first attempt at blind speculation on the subject.
The world has become much more complex over the past half century, of course. Probably fewer of us are at peace with the world and more of us busy trying to keep up with it. I don’t think any fewer of us are never happy, so the question is why don’t we whistle to express our happiness?
The loss of whistling puts a long list of idioms at risk: “just whistling Dixie”, “whistling in the wind”, “whistlestop”, “blow the whistle”, “whistle in the dark”. How many of these do you know? I fear they are slipping away.
One reason that jumps out is that we no longer have composers writing whistlable songs. Rappers and hip-hoppers chant mean-spirited jargon that is foisted on us by recording companies. Have you heard a recent rap that made you want to whistle it?
In the 40s and 50s we had tunes by Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Julie Styne and the 60s brought us a slough of whistlable songs by John Lennon and others.
My tentative conclusion is that whistling has been disassociated with happiness by a shift in music from the beautiful ballads of yesteryear to angry, unmemorable chants pandered by the music industry today. But, as I mentioned before, this is just a preliminary blind speculation. More advanced analysis awaits further investigation.