Whistling past the graveyard

Whistling past the graveyard is an idiom with an uncertain origin. 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.

Examples

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)

Check out some others we covered: