Whence that whistle?
June 16, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

The clichéed two-part catcalling whistle that is performed at the sight of a hottie -- almost exclusively a man whistling at a woman -- that sounds like this. Rising, then falling. Where did that particular "tune" come from? What is the earliest recorded instance of its use? How was it popularized?
posted by Greg Nog to Human Relations (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Re Wikipedia: The wolf-whistle originates from the navy General Call made with a boatswain's pipe. The general call is made on a ship to get the attention of all hands for an announcement. Sailors in harbour would whistle the general call when seeing a pretty woman to draw fellow sailors' attention to her. It was eventually picked up by passers-by, not knowing the real meaning of the whistle, and passed on. Over time, the precise tones of the general call were flattened somewhat into the wolf whistle common today.
posted by Bitstop at 1:48 PM on June 16, 2011 [15 favorites]

It's called a wolf whistle, and Wikipedia says it's based on a particular boatswain's whistle.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:49 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always thought it was the musical equiv of "oh, yeah!".
posted by telstar at 2:00 PM on June 16, 2011

Boatswain's or Bosun's whistle in use, and a PDF manual for use and care (Google Quickview), which includes some techniques for piping certain calls (including General Call), and a piping chart on page 11.

The handbook says "the use of the Boatswains Call in English ships can be traced back with certainty to the days of the Crusades, AD 1248," but it doesn't give a history to the specific calls.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:06 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whistling was a sign of affection "dating back to ancient Greece and Rome", and I was amiss to call it the Bosun's Whistle: it is called "Boatswain's call (or pipe, NEVER "Whistle")" (Quicktime plugin requested, WAV files linked within).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I noticed when I was a child that it sounds like, to my untrained ears, the inverse of the "hey you" whistle, like you'd use to get someone's attention from a distance away.

Whee-oooh-weet is the "commere" and weet-wheooo" is the wolf whistle. I'm sure this doesn't help you whatsoever.
posted by TomMelee at 2:48 PM on June 16, 2011 [9 favorites]

The guitar does it during the beginning of David Lee Roth's Yankee Rose, if you want actual notes.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:16 PM on June 16, 2011

There's a bird that makes this exact sound, though I don't know what species. I've heard it when I was out in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it came from that originally?
posted by orange swan at 8:30 PM on June 16, 2011

I'd bet orange swan is thinking of a whip~poor~will which is very close. Kept me awake a lot as a child and I can't ever forget it!
posted by davoid at 12:04 AM on June 17, 2011

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