QUESTION: Origin of a phrase

question / pregunta: 

What is the origin of the phrase "Dry as a Whistle"? Thank-you!


Answer posted by:
jim miller

Oxford English Dictionary (advanced search for the phrase in full text), says: "1842 J. WILSON Chr. North I. 84 By the time we reach the manse we are as dry as a whistle". The reference links to: Wilson, John. The Recreations of Christopher North 1842.

But even the greatest dictionary, like all of historical research, is a work-in-progress. Quite possibly, the actual first use was never even written down. Google Books gets 13 hits for the search: "dry as a whistle" date:1500-1842, so that is one possible avenue to try - bearing in mind that OCR (optical character recognition) can produce some wildly inaccurate dates. Also, Google necessarily ends up scanning many very old volumes that were bound with much more current books - which also throws off the results.

Answer posted by:
jim miller

The commercial database (at large academic libraries) LION takes this quote back to 1822, in C. S. (Charles S.) Talbot () Paddy's Trip to America; or, The Husband with Three Wives. A Farce, in Two Acts New-York Printed for the Author 1822 48 p. Text type: Prose
Genre: Farce, Comedy First performed: Washington Hall, New York
First performed: 1821 or 1822.

The exact quote is: O'Fla. [Patrick O'Flaherty] [39] Can't your honour; I'm as dry as a whistle, [40] and could'nt squeese a word out, 'till I be after [41] getting something to drink.

JSTOR gets zero hits for the phrase "dry as a whistle", no doubt because "as" and "a" are stop words. The search: dry and whistle gets 1522 hits, and when you sort by "oldest to most recent" you get 3 hits older that 1839. But they all seem to have only one of the words on "page of first match".