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 [furcula] in English as I only used it in Arabic as a kid.

So, squabs (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, though oftentimes it’s only one round as players forget 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 reread the above lines the word WISH just flashed in front of me eyes, making me wonder why the furcula is called wishbone in the first place. This once again led to the sweet World Wide Web.
Whether with fereek (freekeh) a cereal made from wheat resembling quinoa or with rice, stuffed squabs (Hamam Mahshi) are how we usually enjoy them in Egypt. The less filling grilled ones are another option. Here posing for the camera during a trip back to the Motherland where I get to indulge in home-made hamam once or twice every year or so. After dropping the meats, I enjoy such occasional cultural experiences because of the shock they give my body and nervous system.

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 came across said historical Snapple Fact, more memories flooded my mind, actually reminding me of this two-halves luck bit.

When the Romans further began travelling throughout Europe they brought the tradition with them,
eventually the English adopted the practice. While breaking a turkey’s wishbone started with the Pilgrims, the term wishbone originated in America in the mid 1800s. So its apparent that it is not a purely Eastern thing. My grandmother’s grandparents must have someway somehow picked it up along the way before reaching that kid in Cairo who many decades later 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  

The Archaic Origin of the Swastika Symbol [with Photos]

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