Like it or loathe it, whistling is on the way out

Freddie SayersEditor-in-Chief of YouGov
November 05, 2015, 11:11 AM UTC

A new YouGov poll confirms that whistling is less and less popular with each generation

At YouGov we like to turn occasionally away from the big issues of the day and look at the little things in life - in search of those small shifts in the way we live that might hold the key to a larger trend. And so today to whistling, that pasttime beloved of theoretical dustmen and policemen that already somehow speaks of a bygone age.

For whistling enthusiasts the headline results of today's survey will be bleak: people overwhelmingly agree that whistling is dying, and what is more, each generation is more and more happy about that fact. Asked whether people like to hear someone whistling (presuming it is in tune) or generally find it annoying, only the over-60s tend to be positive about it. Each younger generation is more likely to say they tend to find it annoying, right down to the 18-24s who are negative to the tune of 53% to 27%.

So what explains this shift? How can something that was music to the ears of generations have become an annoyance to the young?

Here we leave the realm of data and drift into pure speculation, but it strikes me that rather than just a change in fashion it is the underlying attitude of a whistler that is less compatible with today's world. Whistlers are not typically whistling for an audience, but are absent-mindedly, unselfconsciously, lost in their own train of thought; they might be engaged in a task that they are approaching at a leisurely pace, in a state of calm contentment; there is a peace-within-his-environment about the whistler that feels harder to achieve in today's faster-paced, more distracted times.

There will no doubt be readers of this article who think that there are rather more practical explanations for this. Instead of getting all misty-eyed about the passing of contendedness, what about the advent of portable recorded music (so people can listen to proper music instead of having to make up their own), the decline of outdoor and manual jobs in favour of office jobs (if everyone in an open plan office was whistling it would not be practical) and obviously the ability of mobile phones to absorb those boring hours more effectively with instant messaging and Candy Crush Saga.

Whether it signifies anything or not, we can now say with confidence something we may have suspected but couldn't previously prove: whistling is on the way out.

See the full poll results