Whistling past the graveyard

Whistling past the graveyard is an idiom with an uncertain origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom whistling past the graveyard, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Whistling past the graveyard means putting on a brave face, doing something that distracts you from your fear, doing something that hides your fear from others. The idiom whistling past the graveyard is believed to have originated in the United States, though the roots of the sentiment expressed in the idiom may be found in a poem called The Grave, written by the Scottish poet, Robert Blair, in 1743: “Oft in the lone church-yard at night I’ve seen, / By glimpse of moon-shine, chequering through the trees, /
The school-boy, with his satchel in his hand, / Whistling aloud to bear his courage up…” Surely the idea of whistling to bolster one’s courage is an old one, and whistling while one passes a graveyard is probably equally as old. Related phrases are whistle past the graveyard, whistles past the graveyard, whistling past the graveyard.


We have lots of cases of presidents whistling past the graveyard — or at least past plunging leading and then concurrent indicators, only finally acknowledging there’s a problem when the lagging indicators kick in. (Bloomberg News)

Another senior conservative staffer told The Texan, “Both sides are whistling past the graveyard on spending and the debt.” (The Texan)

“I’m not making a moral judgement, but whistling past the graveyard is not the way to address this issue. ” (The Buffalo News)

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