AskDefine | Define whistling

The Collaborative Dictionary

Whistle \Whis"tle\, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Whistled; p. pr. & vb. n. Whistling.] [AS. hwistlian; akin to Sw. hvissla, Dan. hvisle, Icel. hv[imac]sla to whisper, and E. whisper. [root]43. See Whisper.] [1913 Webster]
To make a kind of musical sound, or series of sounds, by forcing the breath through a small orifice formed by contracting the lips; also, to emit a similar sound, or series of notes, from the mouth or beak, as birds. [1913 Webster] The weary plowman leaves the task of day, And, trudging homeward, whistles on the way. --Gay. [1913 Webster]
To make a shrill sound with a wind or steam instrument, somewhat like that made with the lips; to blow a sharp, shrill tone. [1913 Webster]
To sound shrill, or like a pipe; to make a sharp, shrill sound; as, a bullet whistles through the air. [1913 Webster] The wild winds whistle, and the billows roar. --Pope. [1913 Webster]
Whistling \Whis"tling\, a. & n. from Whistle, v. [1913 Webster] Whistling buoy. (Naut.) See under Buoy. Whistling coot (Zool.), the American black scoter. Whistling Dick. (Zool.) (a) An Australian shrike thrush (Colluricincla Selbii). (b) The song thrush. [Prov. Eng.] Whistling duck. (Zool.) (a) The golden-eye. (b) A tree duck. Whistling eagle (Zool.), a small Australian eagle (Haliastur sphenurus); -- called also whistling hawk, and little swamp eagle. Whistling plover. (Zool.) (a) The golden plover. (b) The black-bellied, or gray, plover. Whistling snipe (Zool.), the American woodcock. Whistling swan. (Zool.) (a) The European whooper swan; -- called also wild swan, and elk. (b) An American swan (Olor columbianus). See under Swan. Whistling teal (Zool.), a tree duck, as Dendrocygna awsuree of India. Whistling thrush. (Zool.) (a) Any one of several species of singing birds of the genus Myiophonus, native of Asia, Australia, and the East Indies. They are generally black, glossed with blue, and have a patch of bright blue on each shoulder. Their note is a loud and clear whistle. (b) The song thrush. [Prov. Eng.] [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 the sound made by something moving rapidly or by steam coming out of a small aperture [syn: whistle]
2 the act of whistling a tune; "his cheerful whistling indicated that he enjoyed his work"
3 the act of signalling (e.g., summoning) by whistling or blowing a whistle; "the whistle signalled the end of the game" [syn: whistle]



  1. present participle of whistle
Human whistling is the production of sound by means of a constant stream of air from the mouth. The air is moderated by the tongue, lips, teeth, or fingers to create turbulence, and the mouth acts as a resonant chamber to enhance the resulting sound, thus acting as a type of Helmholtz resonator. Whistling can also be produced by hands, or using an external instrument, such as a whistle or a blade of grass.

Types of whistling

Non-instrumental whistling from the mouth can be accomplished in several ways:
  • Pucker (or "pursed lip") whistling, in which the air is expelled or inhaled through pursed lips, producing turbulence
  • Roof or palatal whistling, in which the turbulence is produced by air being pushed between the tongue and the roof (palate or alveolar ridge) of the mouth
  • Finger whistling or wolf-whistling, in which one or more fingers are inserted into the mouth to shape the opening, allowing a much more forceful stream of air to be blown through. A variation entails pinching at the center of the bottom lip, and sucking in, rather than blowing out, resulting in a very loud and piercing whistle.
  • Hand whistling, in which air is blown from the mouth into a resonant chamber formed by cupped hands
  • Throat whistling, in which air is blown through the throat with the mouth closed
A whistled tone is primarily a simple oscillation (or sine wave) produced in the resonant chamber, and thus timbral variations are slight. The pitch of a whistle can be altered by changing the volume and shape of the resonant chamber (most typically by using the tongue).
In duotone whistling, use of the lips and tongue are combined to produce two tones at once, which can also start and stop at different times, but must be close in pitch. Simple duets can be whistled solo in this way.
It is also possible to whistle and hum at the same time. With enough practice, it is possible for one to hum and whistle two separate melodies at the same time. One of the most prolific "hum-whistlers" is A.J. Johnson, of Leeds, who, in recent years, has appeared in a number of West End and Yorkshire-based plays demonstrating his craft with a live orchestral backdrop.
Some languages and code languages use whistles as a part of their communication; this is referred to as whistled speech.
"Loud whistling" is a non-musical type of whistling that used to indicate both satisfaction and displeasure, usually at, but not limited to, sporting events, political rallies, social gatherings, and movies. (Edward T. Hall, "Essential Do's and Taboos: The Complete Guide to International Business and Leisure Travel", 2007). It is also used as an attention-getter for such purposes as calling dogs, flagging down taxis and alerting bus passengers in India. This piercing style of whistling is very loud and the sound can carry very far. It can be made in a number of ways with and without use of the fingers.
One specific type of whistling called "wolf-whistling" can also be used to denote physical attractiveness in the one being whistled at. Though it was frequently heard in cartoons and films of the 50s and 60s, it is now considered very poor manners in the Western world, and can even be considered a form of harassment in a professional setting. The usual setting is a man whistling at an attractive woman, but it can happen between virtually anyone. It may also be used jokingly as a compliment between closer individuals, in a romantic relationship, for example. It can also be directed to inanimate objects to signify appreciation, as with impressive buildings, or high-powered cars. The wolf-whistle usually consists of a pitch-bend up, a brief stop, followed by a quick pitch-bend up that smoothly comes back down in a continuous manner.

Musical/melodic whistling

Whistling can be musical: many performers on the music hall and Vaudeville circuits were professional whistlers, the most famous of which were Ronnie Ronalde and Fred Lowery and several notable songs feature whistling in some capacity. The term puccalo refers to jazz whistling.
Pucker whistling is the most common form of whistling used in most Western music. Typically, the tongue tip is lowered, often placed behind the lower teeth, and pitch altered by varying the position of the tongue body. In particular, the point at which the dorsum of the tongue approximates the palate varies from near the uvula (for low notes) to near the alveolar ridges (for high notes). Although varying the degree of pucker will change the pitch of a pucker whistle, expert pucker whistlers will generally only make small variations to the degree of pucker, due to its tendency to affect purity of tone.
By contrast, many expert musical palatal whistlers will substantially alter the position of the lips to ensure a good quality tone. Venetian gondoliers are famous for moving the lips in a way that can look like singing, whilst they whistle.

Whistling in popular culture

Whistling and superstition

Whistling in theatre, particularly on-stage, is considered extremely unlucky. Before the invention of electronic means of communication, sailors were often used as stage technicians, working with the complicated rope systems associated with flying. Coded whistles would be used to call cues, so it is thought that whistling on-stage may cause, for example, a cue to come early, a "sailor's ghost" to drop a batten or flat on top of an actor, or general bad luck in the performance.
In Russian and other Slavic cultures, whistling indoors is superstitiously believed to bring poverty ("whistling money away"), whereas whistling outdoors is considered normal.
In Serbia, it is said that whistling indoors will attract mice, while in Korea, whistling is thought to bring snakes. Whistling on board a sailing ship is thought to encourage the wind strength to increase (although this can be good up to a point, for wind-driven ships, it can naturally become dangerous if the wind becomes too strong). This is regularly alluded to the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian.
whistling in German: Pfeifen
whistling in Spanish: Silbido
whistling in French: Sifflement
whistling in Korean: 휘파람
whistling in Italian: Fischio
whistling in Hebrew: שריקה
whistling in Dutch: Fluiten
whistling in Japanese: 口笛
whistling in Norwegian: Plystring
whistling in Polish: Gwizd (dźwięk)
whistling in Portuguese: Assovio
whistling in Finnish: Vihellys
whistling in Swedish: Vissling
whistling in Chinese: 口哨
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