Shake, shake, shake that death rattle

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes re-play has the two protagonists engaged in a heavy game of Cowboys and Indians:


A play on two senses of rattle, denoting either a sound or a thing that makes a sound.

From NOAD, slightly amplified:

noun rattle: 1 [a] a rapid succession of short, sharp, hard sounds: the rattle of teacups on the tray. [b, a specialization of a] a gurgling sound in the throat of a dying person. 2 [a] a thing used to make a rattling sound. [then three specializations of this general sense:] [b] a baby’s toy consisting of a container filled with small pellets, which makes a noise when shaken. [c] the set of horny rings at the end of a rattlesnake’s tail, shaken with a dry buzzing sound as a warning. [add d: a type of percussion instrument which produces a sound when shaken]

The Calvin and Hobbes plays on senses 1b and 2b: Hobbes gives Calvin a baby rattle as a sign that Calvin has died in the Cowboys and Indians game, so it’s (groan) Calvin’s death rattle.

Note on the noun(s) rattleOED3 (Dec. 2008) treats the noun as a nouning of the (sound-making) verb rattle, itself apparently imitative in origin.

Then on sense 1b, from Wikipedia:

Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries

Then sense 2b, the baby rattle. At least two varieties, a dumbbell-shaped one and a bulbous-headed one. On the first, a fancy sterling silver one by Krysalis, from All Siver Gifts:


As for the second, these days such things are mostly plastic and mostly color-coded as pink for girls and blue for boys, but here’s a nice heirloom rattle by Satara Home, in a Mother magazine posting on wooden baby rattles:


Finally, there are rattles as musical instruments, like these Mexican maracas, one for each hand:


The baby rattles and the musical instruments are filled with small beads or balls that make a (rattling) noise when the devices are shaken.

2 Responses to “Shake, shake, shake that death rattle”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    And, if you’re Tweedle-Dee or Tweedle-Dum, you might agree to have a battle over one.

  2. [URBAN NOTE] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] from Calvin and Hobbes, Arnold Zwicky considers rattles, death rattles and […]

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