The “pully bone” or “pullybone” (also “pulley bone” or “pullybone,” “pulling bone” and “pull bone") is a forked bone, named using the Latin word forcula. The bone has been called “merrythought” in England since the 1500s. The bone has also been called “wishbone” (also “wish bone") in America since at least 1839.
A Thanksgiving/Christmas tradition has been to find the “pully bone” of a turkey. Two people pull on the bone; the person with the larger piece of bone after it breaks in two is said to get his or her wish.
The furcula (”little fork“ in Latin) is a forked bone found in birds and theropod dinosaurs, formed by the fusion of the two clavicles. In birds, its function is the strengthening of the thoracic skeleton to withstand the rigors of flight. Also known as a fourchette, the “wishbone” is a shared, derived characteristic of birds and many dinosaurs.
The following therapods have been found to have furculae: aves, dromaeosaurids (including a new North American species of Velociraptor), Oviraptorids, Tyrannosaurids, Troodontids,Coelophysids and Allosauroids.
In human culture
The furcula is commonly referred to as a wishbone or merrythought because of the tradition that when two people hold the two sides of the bone and pull it apart, the one who gets the larger part will have a wish granted. Today the wishbone, once removed from the turkey or chicken, is first dried and then held between the little fingers of two opposing “wishers”. Once the wish has been made the bone is pulled by each person. The wisher who breaks off a larger section of bone is assumed to have their wishes granted. Because this is commonly a Thanksgiving tradition, this bone is also called the Thanksgiving bone.
In the Southern United States, it is also referred to as pulley bone, especially when served as a piece of chicken with meat from both adjacent breasts attached.
pul·ley bone (plural pul·ley bones)
Same as wishbone (sense 1)
Pulley bone is a general-currency word used throughout the South. Other names include breastbone, good-luck bone, lucky bone, and pull bone.
Dictionary of American Regional English
pully bone n Also called pull(ey) bone, pulling bone [EDD pull bone, pulling bone] chiefly Sth, S Midl, TX, OK, IL, IN Also called boy 2, breakbone, breastbone, chicken bone 1, crossbone 2, funnybone 3, good-luck bone, hook bone, hug-me-tight 3, love bone, lucky bone 1, marriage bone, pullet bone, merrythought
1877 Bartlett Americanisms 502, Pulling-Bone. The common name in Maryland, Virginia, &c. for the yoke-like breast-bone of chickens, by pulling which till it breaks children and young ladies settle which will be the first married.
1905 New England Cook Book 274, You will dislodge the V-shaped bone, corresponding to the “merrythought” pr “pull-bone” of chickens.
1906 Dialect Notes 3.152 nwAR,
1912 Dialect Notes 3.586 wIN, Pully-bone...Wishbone, which is very rarely heard.
1915 Dialect Notes 4.188 swVA, Pully-bone...Wishbone.
1923 Dialect Notes 5.218 swMO, Pulley bone...The wish bone of a fowl.
1933 American Speech 8.1.51 Ozarks, Pulley bone.
1939 LANE Map 215 (Wishbone) 1 inf, neMA, Pulling-bone.
1946 Publication of the American Dialect Society 5.34 VA, Pull bone, pulling bone...Wishbone; east of the Blue Ridge...Pully bone...Wishbone; west of the Blue Ridge and in the southern Piedmont. Ibid 6.24 eNC, Pullybone...The wishbone.
1949 Kurath Word Geog. 63, Wishbone...The V-shaped clavicles of a fowl are variously known as wishbone, pully-bone, pull-bone (pulling bone), and lucky-bone...The usual Southern and South Midland expression is pully-bone, pull-bone. This term is also current among the older folk in the North Midland, notably in southern New Jersey and southwestern Pennsylvania...Pull-bone is characteristic of southern New Jersey, Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac Valley, and the Charleston area of South Carolina.
1952 NC Folkl. 1.580, Pulley-bone.
1965 DARE (Qu. K74, A bone from the breast of a chicken, shaped like a horseshoe) 251 Infs, chiefly Sth, S Midl, TX, OK, IL, IN, Pully bone; 12 Infs, scattered, Pull bone; MD38, VA14, 26, Pulling bone.
c1970 Pederson Dial. Surv. Rural GA seGA (What do you call a chicken bone...that children like to have) 26 [of 64] infs, Pully bone; 5 infs, Pull bone; 1 inf. Pullin’ bone.
1984 Burns Cold Sassy 64 nGA (as of 1906), Papa..reached for the pully-bone, my favorite piece of fried chicken except for the head.
1985 DARE File TN, Pulley bone.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
U.S. regional (south. and south Midland).
Forms: 18- pully-bone, 19- pulley-bone. [< PULL v. + -Y suffix1 + BONE n. Compare earlier pulling bone n. at PULLING n. Compounds 2.]
= WISH-BONE n. Cf. pulling bone n. at PULLING n. Compounds 2.
1897 O. P. READ Old Ebenezer xxxi. 319 Well, if it ain’t the thighs and the pully-bone of a fried chicken.
1906 Dial. Notes 3 152 Pully-bone, wishbone.
1939 B. K. HARRIS Purslane 148 The girls scrambled over the pulley-bone of the turkey.
1947 M. HENRY Misty of Chincoteague xvi. 152 Somethin’ told me to save the pully bone from that marsh hen.
1985 B. NEAL Southern Cooking (1989) viii. 121 Then, and always, cut the bird into nine pieces, that is, with a wishbone southerners call it the ‘pulley-bone’.
Outlines of Comparative Anatomy and Medical Zoology
By Harrison Allen
Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott & Co.
AVES.—Anterior extremity, with coracoid bone large, distinct from scapula; clavicle (pull bone, furcula) not joining sternum, but anchylosed with fellow of opposite side;...
25 December 1879, Sun (Baltimore, MD), “How to carve a turkey,” pg. 2:
When all the breast has been carefully sliced off, remove the collar-bone, (the “pulling bone,” so-called) then the two “hug-me-close” bones, (scapulas)...
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Placing your knife close to the front of the breast-bone, and cutting toward the neck, you will dislodge the V-shaped bone, corresponding to the “merrythought” or “pull-bone” of chickens.
6 September 1884, Fort Wayne (IN) Daily Gazette, pg. 3, col. 3:
OLD IKE AND THE PULLEY BONE.
Den do all rushed at me, but snatchin’ up de pulley bone o’er chicken, I set it straddle o’ my nose. I had learnt dat trick from my gran’ daddy.
-- Arkansaw Travelet.
27 August 1899, Age-Herald, “For Little Folks: The Mice Have a Holiday,” section 2, pg. 15:
(’THE PULLEY-BONE CONTEST.” is the caption of an illustration—ed.)
...the very place that Mary and Fanny wanted, for it was the breast and they liked to get the “pully bone.”
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