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Definition: A wishbone

Pronunciation: Mer-ee-thawt


Early 1600s – a simple combination of merry and thought.

Why This Word?

This would appear to be a fascinating example of a noun named after a practice. A ‘merrythought’ was another word for a wish and was borrowed to describe first the wishbone custom and, second, the wishbone itself. For those unfamiliar with it, the practice involves of two people each holding end of the wishbone from a fowl (usually chicken or turkey) and breaking it – the person with the biggest portion getting the chance to alter their destiny (i.e., make a wish)… Incidentally, the emergence of this word coincides more or less with the acceptance of the turkey as a Christmas staple in the English-speaking world. There is, therefore, a possibility that the reason for the drama of the idea of a wish being granted from food is linked to the need for something a little extra-special at Christmas. Of  course, it could also simply have been a marketing ploy by early turkey salesmen … Incidentally, the modern name for the merrythought is, of course, the ‘wishbone’ – a 19th century word that, nonetheless, still incorporates the idea of the wish.

How to use the word merrythought in a sentence?

Just like the first turkeys, this word is probably best saved for a Christmas anecdote. If you get to carve the bird, give the history of the word. It will, no doubt, add to the mystique and gravitas that comes with being an authority on carving …


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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