ON THE FIDDLE
Monday February 9th, 2009
ONCE AGAIN THE DEVIL’S NOT TO BLAME
Many people mistakenly assume that the phrase ‘on the fiddle’ has musical connotations. They associate it with the favourite instrument of Old Nick himself – the violin or fiddle. Hence being on the fiddle means gaining by corrupt means or quite literally dancing to the devils music. But it’s a load of rubbish.
The fiddle was actually the name given to a rim around the square wooden plate used by sailors. It was designed to help prevent slopping over in rough seas and has been used on round porcelain plates to varying degree since. But the sailor’s fiddle didn’t just prevent spillage it was also a means of portion control. It marked the limit of how much each crewmember was entitled to. Anyone found with food that crossed the boundary was said to be ‘fiddling’ or ‘on the fiddle’ – translated as depriving fellow crew of food. With the strict rationing necessary in the glory days of oceanic discovery it was considered a crime punishable by flogging. I’ll bet no one ever winked at the chef as he dished up the slop, no matter how hungry they were.