I expect I might as well begin by telling you about the pulley-bone so that whenever I mention it, which I do very often in this write up, you will not interrupt and ask,
"What is a pulley bone?"

When I was seven and Sister was five we had arrived in the musty little town during a high summer where a bright, clear sky over a sorghum field so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon. In the great pink kitchen, there was a fire engine red water pump by the sink, a behemoth of black bellied stove and a pulley bone. It was seven o'clock of a very warm evening in the little hills of Lometa when Grandfather woke up from his day's rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his large hands to get rid of the sleepy feeling his fingers. He popped a piece of peppermint candy in his mouth plucked up the pulley bone with his little finger off the knob over which it hung from on Grandma’s range. I eagerly seized the other end and we pulled to make a wish.

I passed this belief on to Sister and we somehow thought it was akin to pinky swearing, but looking back it was more than likely that Grandpa’s fingers swollen from hard labor were thick and too callused to fit in that small space of the forked bone between the neck and breast alongside my undersized fingers.

    ”Put your little finger in there Sister close your eyes, make a wish and pull.”

    "And - and - what comes next?"

    "Oh, yes, yes, what the Dickens does come next?"
    Whoever ends up with the longest piece will get their wish and whoever gets the shortest piece will get married first!”

    ”What did you wish for?” asked Sister whom Nature had endowed with a most sweet mouse eyed and blackberried face.

    ”A horse I can call Snip or Ribbon,” I illustrated for her. “Maybe even a smooth ridin’ quarter horse like cousin Richard has. A roan colored one with a forehead blaze just right so I could call him Star Boy! “
    ” But you’d better not never tell nobody but God.”

Sister told Dad no doubt because that was all I ever wished for whenever I had the chance to fancy. Moving all of the time made it an impossible desire, but every so often when Dad was TDY a horse of some kind would arrive for me from various foreign lands. A ceramic or crystal pony, I named them all. My favorite, Bailey is carved out of teak by a Vietnamese mountainyard.

The term merrythought seems to have manifested itself sometime in the 1850’s and was a more common term in the United States than Britain until the beginning of the twentieth century. Here's an American illustration, from Mrs. Goodfellow's Cookery as it Should Be, published in Philadelphia in 1865:

    Remove the merrythought and neck bones next, this you will accomplish by inserting the knife and forcing it under the bones, raise it and it will readily separate from the breast.

An older version of this tradition is called merrythought, in which it is unsaid that the one left with the longer piece will get to marry first. Hence the wishbone ritual outcome became what is euphemistically called "merry thoughts" among those participating.

Merrythought is the oldest term for that part of a chicken or fowl formed by the fused clavicles. The scientific terminology for the bone is the Latin diminutive furcula, of furca, meaning a fork. That’s also the source of fork and shows up in vocabulary like bifurcated, which the furcula is.

Wishbone is the American equivalent of the merrythought and if you’re around the Deep South, ya’ll might want to know that Christmas isn’t Christmas until the Thanksgiving pulley bone is wished over.

Source: Weird Words:

Mer"ry*thought` (?), n.

The forked bone of a fowl's breast; -- called also wishbone. See Furculum.

It is a sportive custom for two persons to break this bone by pulling the ends apart to see who will get the longer piece, the securing of which is regarded as a lucky omen, signifying that the person holding it will obtain the gratification of some secret wish.


© Webster 1913.

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