Sunday, 25 December 2016

The Origin of ‘Wishbone’ and the “Yadas - Fi bali” (يدس - في بالي) Game


Furcula (n): A forked organ or structure, in particular.

a. The wishbone of a bird.

b. The forked appendage at the end of the abdomen in a springtail, by which the insect jumps.

Origin: Mid 19th century; from Latin, diminutive of furca ‘fork’.

I happen to be part of a Logophilia Facebook group specialised for words. This morning I came across a post with the featured photo, which took me down memory lane. It’s interesting that I have never thought of the existence of the word in English as I only used it in Arabic as a kid.

So... squab (young pigeons/quail) are a popular dish in Egypt among many other parts of the world. While living with my grandparents for a few years, I learned a game from my grandma that she used to play as a kid. And the whole idea was whoever first finds this ‘furcula’ while eating his squab would hold it up and say: “Yadas” (يدس).

Now, whoever wanted to take part in the game would lift his hand and break the bone in half with you while saying: “Fi bali” (في بالي), meaning “in my mind”, signalling the beginning of the game.

The one and only rule is that since breaking the bone, whenever I would pass you anything and you take it, you must say “Fi bali”, showing that you remember the game. If you forgot to say it and I said: “Yadas” as you took the item, I win. Usually one point, even though sometimes it’s played only once as players forgot about it after getting up from the dining table.

As such, whenever they would occasionally cook the birds at home I was always excited to find the furcula in my plate and use my tiny slippery hand to break it with my grandmother; in later years sometimes with my mother, younger sister, cousins, even grandfather. 

I usually won — or perhaps the sweet woman used to let me win — which often meant that for every point I get an Egyptian Pound. For a 6 or 8-year-old a full L.E was a fortune. Other times, it was purely for fun.

My trick to win was simple yet effective. Right after we get up from the table I pretend that I totally forgot about the game, going about my afternoon all casually. Maybe an hour later while in the living room, I wittily start a conversation with her about something truly random, and then I somehow insert anything in the interaction which required me to give her something in her hand. She would then forget to say “Yadas” and I win my precious point.

I was not exactly sure about the origin of the game but I’m sure happy the Logophilia post reminded me of the instance this morning.

Later on the day, as I read the above lines the word WISH just flashed in front of my eyes, which made me wonder why the furcula is called wishbone in the first place. This led my fingers to the sweet World Wide Web.
Apparently, the wishbone tradition goes all the way back to Ancient Romans who thought of them as a symbol of luck. They would be snapped apart by two people while they were each making a wish. The person holding the longer piece was said to have good fortune or a wish granted. If the bone cracked evenly in half, both people would have their wishes come true. As I read this, more memories flooded my mind and I actually remembered this two-halves luck bit.

When the Romans began travelling throughout Europe they brought the tradition with them, and the English eventually adopted the practice. Breaking a turkey
’s wishbone started with the Pilgrims, and the term wishbone originated in America in the mid 1800s. So it is apparent that it is not a purely Eastern thing. My grandmother’s grandparents must have someway somehow picked it up before it reaches that kid in Cairo who one day in the future decided to write an article about it. 

And now you know. 


From English as a Third Language to Author — How I Expanded My Vocabulary 

Words With No Direct Translation To English 

More Words With No Direct Translation To English  
Words With Italian Origin That Are Still Used Today In Egypt  

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