I am curious about how 'fiddlestick' came to obtain the slanted meaning of 'nonsense'. Of all the researches I've conducted online(including etymology.com, phrasefinder, merriam webster), I find the explication on World Wide Words most nearly satisfactory

At some point in Shakespeare’s lifetime, it seems fiddlestick began to be used for something insignificant or trivial. This may have been because a violin bow was regarded as inconsequential or perhaps simply because the word sounds intrinsically silly. It took on a humorous slant as a word one could use to replace another in a contemptuous response to a remark. George Farquhar used it in this way in his play Sir Henry Wildair of 1701: “Golden pleasures! golden fiddlesticks!”. From here it was a short step to using the word as a disparaging comment to mean that something just said was nonsense.

Still I was wondering if there is a better supply of answer? Thank you.

  • 1
    When I was a kid many small shops sold what was called a "fiddlestick", basically a stick about a foot long with a propeller-like piece on one end and notches along it's length. When you ran another stick down the notches the propeller would turn, if you did it right. The original "fidget" spinner -- meaningless to use, but somehow gratifying. This apparently is now called a magic propeller, and the term "fiddlestick" has been applied to several other toys. I suspect that there has been some sort of "fiddlestick" toy for centuries.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 1:31
  • related:We might have to do some “fiddling”
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 5:05
  • According to Etymonline , fiddlestick meaning "nonsense" (usually fiddlesticks) is from 1620s. As an exclamation, c. 1600. - etymonline.com/index.php?term=fiddlestick - The word was appropriated to indicate absurdity in the 17th century. Thomas Nashe used it that way in the play Summer's Last Will and Testament, 1600: A fiddlesticke! ne're tell me I am full of words. phrases.org.uk/meanings/fiddlesticks.html
    – user66974
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 5:33

1 Answer 1


One common variant is fiddlestick's end. Literally, a fiddlestick is a bow used to play a fiddle. There is nothing at either end of the bow, which ends at a point. It seems that "fiddlestick's end," meaning "nothing," could be part of the story of how "fiddlestick" came to mean "nonsense."

The entry in Green's Dictionary of Slang seems to me to suggest as much:

fiddlestick’s end (n.) a [Standard English] fiddlestick ends in a point.

[late 18C–1900s] nothing; thus as excl., a dismissive retort.

OED also suggests that the meaning lies somewhere between absurdity and "nothing."

  1. humorously. Something insignificant or absurd, a mere nothing. Often substituted for another word in derisively repeating a remark. Also, fiddlestick's end. not to care a fiddlestick: to care not at all.

A few citations:

1796 Grose's Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue (ed. 3) Fiddlestick's End, Nothing.

1807 Salmagundi 18 Apr. 161 We do not care a fiddle~stick..for either public opinion or private ill-will.

1839 Dickens Nicholas Nickleby viii. 65 ‘We purify the boys' bloods now and then...’ ‘Purify fiddlesticks' ends’, said his lady.

This might not be the complete story, but it could offer a hint as to how fiddlestick came to mean "nonsense" or "absurdity."

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