What’s the Story, Wishbone?

Beth asked me last night if I knew how the tradition of breaking the wishbone started, and I had to admit I didn’t know. As with most superstitions, it’s difficult to get an exact answer, but there’s a lot of speculation. This Mental Floss article claims that it derived from a practice by the Etruscans, who held birds to have oracular powers. One form of Etruscan divination that I’ve seen mentioned on the Internet is that of laying out chicken feed on a grid containing all the letters of the alphabet, and watching how the fowl proceeds to eat it, sort of like a Ouija board. When a chicken died, the furcula would be preserved, and apparently people made wishes on it. This then passed to the Romans, who started breaking the bones because there weren’t enough to go around. This article reports the commonplace practice in Europe of using wishbones to predict the weather. In England, the furcula was called the merrythought bone; and it was from England that the tradition came to the United States.

Talking about wishbones made me think of one of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s King Kojo stories, specifically the Christmas one where the dog Wiseman digs up the wishbone of a dinosaur.

The furculas of theropod dinosaurs have actually been found, but I doubt anyone has tried breaking them to see if their wishes come true. And in Melody Grandy’s The Disenchanted Princess of Oz, Tip finds a Wishbird, a turkey-like animal that grows a working wishbone on the outside of its chest. When he shares his food with the bird, it gives him the bone, which he uses to disenchant someone who had been turned by a witch into a strawberry tart.

This entry was posted in History, Holidays, Melody Grandy, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Thanksgiving and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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