Why We Say #10: of Chickens and Whistles
“George, do you think we can afford to go out to dinner and maybe take in a show? Will that be too expensive?”
“Why, Martha. The expense of going out on the town with my best girl is chicken feed. Grab your hat, darling, and let’s skeddadle downtown.”
George and Martha probably enjoyed their night out because more than likely George, being a generous fellow, had made his fortune and a spending money mattered no longer to him. In fact, a few dollars was a mere pittance, like tossing crumbs to the birds.
And that’s exactly where the expression “chicken feed” comes from–tossing small bits out at a time. Chickens don’t have the capacity to chew up their food (ever see a chicken smile?) and must peck at small amounts. Apply that idea to money and chicken feed means a small amount of spending, not enough to worry or get choked up over.
“Martha, are you going to be able to get that spot of gravy out of my tie? I have to look sharp for tomorrow’s presentation.”
“No worries, George. I’ll get it clean as a whistle.”
I doubt Martha was whistling was she worked on George’s tie. Honestly, George, don’t you know gravy is just looking for the opp to drip on ties?
As for the expression “clean as whistle”, this one is pretty much as it sounds (sorry, the pun overcame the keyboard). About the time of Huck Finn and company, boys would find reeds and poke holes in them to make their whistles. The cleaner the reed, the cleaner or clearer the sound.