Recently I came across the word noodling which in the context referred to singing an improvised sort melody made up of nonsense syllables over the top of a song. I hadn’t encountered this usage before so remembered it. I thought this sort of thing would be called improvisation or scat singing. Have you heard of noodling use in this way.

According to the OED, a noodle can be a stupid or silly person; a slang term for the head; long string-like pasta-type stuff; or a trill or improvisation on an instrument (mainly in jazz).

According to Wikipedia noodling “is fishing for catfish using only bare hands, practiced primarily in the southern United States.” Other names for this activity include catfisting, grabbling, graveling, hogging, dogging, gurgling, tickling and stumping. I’ve heard of tickling for trout, but never of noodling for catfish, or those other terms.

The Free Dictionary lists a number of noodle related phrases:

– to noodle around = to wander around; to fiddle around with something
– to noodle over something = to think about something.
– to use one’s noodle = to use one’s head/brain

Have you heard or do you use any of these expressions? If not, what equivalents might you use?

This entry was posted in English, Language, Music.

7 Responses to Noodling

  1. BrightLance says:

    I’ve heard and used ‘noodling’ to refer to catching catfish (or carp) with your bare hands and I know that Noodler’s Ink – – is named in reference to that hobby.

  2. Paul S. says:

    I’ve never heard of the fishing-for-catfish sense of the word.

    I’m familiar with the musical term “noodling” – to me, it’s always been used to refer to guitarists, playing directionless, improvised solos over the top of a song, with hints of the self-indulgent “muso” about it

  3. Adrienne says:

    It makes sense that if it can be an improvisation on an instrument (per OED) it can be a vocal improvisation too, but I’ve never heard it used that way.

    The catfish thing was the first thing that came to my mind, but I haven’t heard any of those other terms. And I only know about “noodling” in that sense b/c I’ve seen it on TV as a curiosity, usually featuring some dudes with deep American South accents and t-shirts with the sleeves ripped out. =/

  4. Charlotte says:

    Noodling is also used in Australian English. In Coober Pedy, an opal-mining town, for example, you will see lots of signs for ‘noodling’. It is the process of going through piles of earth removed from mines that have been discarded. There may still be pieces of valuable opal in there, so you can ‘noodle’ and perhaps get lucky and find one!

  5. David Eger says:

    In a musical context, ‘noodling’ is often used in a rather derogatory manner to mean ‘improvising aimlessly’, or ‘feeling one’s way around a tune’. It comes up not infrequently on a certain Irish traditional music web forum; in the context of that music, a sharp distinction is made between ‘playing variations on a tune’ – something which is integral to the genre – and ‘improvising over a tune’, which is antithetic to it. (I can give a fuller explanation of this on request, but I think it may be a little beyond the scope of this thread).

    There could be an onomatopoeic element to this usage, rather along the lines of ‘twiddling’ or ‘tootling’.

  6. Christopher says:

    In the US, “noodling” (aside from the fishing sense) means experimenting with an idea, whether it’s musical or not. So you might say “I was noodling over whether to go to the beach for vacation.” Or “I was noodling over how to fix the leak in my bathtub.”

  7. Balaji V says:

    When you eat a bowl of noodle its difficult to hold it all in a spoon or fork, so you rotate it so that you catch a bunch of them. But you do it many times as tends to slip off depending on how wet the noodle is!

    The kind of slow processing of thoughts without actually trying to fish out the solution, but allowing it grip itself in your brain, IMHO, is referred to as “noodling”

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