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7 min read

Fiddlesticks!

Strategy & Technique Frank Cerabino 01-24-2022

If you spend time on a pickleball court, you will notice that the familiar sounds of the rhythmic thwacking of balls will occasionally be punctuated by a verbal exhortation of disgust.

It’s going to happen. There are just too many opportunities for failure built into every game. And so things just slip out.

Some of us handle this better than others. For example, while playing during open play recently, my doubles partner shouted after we lost a rally.

“Shiitake!” she yelled.

I’m pretty sure she wasn’t suddenly interested in discussing gourmet mushrooms on the court. And I applaud her ingenuity in trying to avoid one of pickleball’s most abused rules.

There’s no profanity in pickleball. OK, let me amend that. There’s some profanity in pickleball. But it’s not sanctioned, and in tournaments, it can result in a verbal warning, or even the loss of a point during a refereed match.

I’m no prude. And sometimes in the heat of the moment, drilling what should have been an easy winner into the net, brings words out of my mouth sooner than my brain has a chance to do any editing.

Truth be told, I have been a serial offender of the profanity rule, as defined by the USA Pickleball 2022 Rulebook.

Chapter 3.A.44 defines profanity this way: “Words, phrases or hand gestures, common or uncommon, which are normally considered inappropriate in ‘polite company’ or around children. Typically included are four letter words used as expletives or verbal intensifiers.”

Point of order: I would like a clarification on whether “Go dink yourself!” qualifies as prohibited use of a four-letter word under that definition.

And I have no idea what “uncommon hand gestures” are being referenced here. And come to think of it, if they’re uncommon, maybe nobody else even knows that you’re pantomiming some obscure form of profanity. So what’s the harm?

But I get it. Profanity should be avoided. Pickleball is supposed to be a friendly, social game.

To avoid saying the obvious bad words to relieve my disgust at myself for missing an easy shot, I have lately started to address myself in the third person on the court, rather than swearing.

“What are you doing, Frank?” I will say aloud to myself on the court. “Why can’t you keep it down the middle like we discussed?”

Fiddlesticks! | Pickler Pickleball

Talking to myself in this fashion on the court may spare me from uttering the obvious bad words, but it tends to make me look like somebody who may need mental health services more than a fourth-shot roll.

If only there were another way. Well, there is.

Raul Travieso Jr. is a pickleball ambassador from South Florida and a skillful player. Like the rest of us, he screws up occasionally, and when he does, he finds uttering aloud his disgust a needed relief valve.

“Aw, fiddlesticks!” Raul shouts.

Fiddlesticks. Now, there’s a great word. It’s not obscene. It’s more Looney Tunes TV-cartoon funny than anything else.

Fiddlesticks is in the same league as Sylvester the cat’s exclamation of  “Sufferin’ succotash!”

It’s like shouting “Dagnabbit!” or “What in tarnation is going on here?” They are expressions that are too whimsical to be objectionable.

“Fiddlesticks” also has the advantage of starting with the trouble-prone letter “f”, which allows the speaker to make a mid-course correction during the exclamation to steer it away from being profane.

The word, a reference to violin bows, has been around as an exclamation of disappointment since 17th Century England, where it most likely was used for that very reason of avoiding saying another word that started with the letter “f.”

I asked Raul how he landed on saying “fiddlesticks” on the pickleball court.

Fiddlesticks! | Pickler Pickleball

“You want to say something,” Travieso said. “And the s-word comes out, and you certainly don’t want to hear the f-word. I’m just trying to keep things civil.”

And for that he thanks his wife.

“Her favorite movie is Gone with the Wind,” Raul explained.

The Civil War-era movie starring Clark Gable, Vivian Lee, and Hattie McDaniel, featured a scene where McDaniel, who played the house servant Mammy, was advising Scarlett O’Hara, played by Lee, that refined women pretended not to be hungry.

“I told you and told you that you can always tell a lady by the way she eat in front of folks like a bird,” Mammy tells Scarlett. “And I ain’t aiming for you to go to John Wilkes’ and eat like a field hen and gobble like a hog.”

“Fiddle-dee-dee,” Scarlet answers. “Ashley Wilkes told me he likes to see a girl with a healthy appetite.”

“What a gentleman says, and what a gentleman thinks is two different things,” Mammy answers. “And I didn’t notice Mr. Ashley asking for to marry ‘ya.”

Here’s the movie clip: https://tinyurl.com/3pstzzct

Multiple viewings of Gone with the Wind with his wife has led to Travieso adopting “fiddle-dee-dee” into his pickleball game.

“I started saying ‘fiddle-dee-dee’” Travieso said, “and then I added ‘fiddlesticks.’”

You might want to incorporate “fiddle-dee-dee” or “fiddlesticks” into your own game.

Since talking to Travieso, I’ve been scouring the dialogue of Gone with the Wind to see if there might be other lines in the movie script that may be suitable for pickleball use.

So far, I’ve only come up with an alternative to saying “good game” while tapping paddles at the end of a match.

But I’m not sure it sets the appropriate sportsmanship tone to say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

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