Merry-thought was the common term for wishbone in America and Britain and could still be found into the early 1900’s. The term wishbone is American. It was so-named from the old custom of two people holding one tip of the forked bone from the breast of a fowl and pulling until it snapped. The person whose piece was the largest was supposed to marry before the other. Dictionaries into the early 20th century defined wish-bone as merry-thought or forked bone from the breast of a fowl.
The lucky bone was, “the larger portion of the merry-thought, or wishbone, of a chicken” – the part associated with good luck or the granting of wishes. – “Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society”. 1899.
Wishbones, sometimes gilded, were incorporated in good-luck luncheons for brides-to-be. One source instructed on tying a gilded wishbone to the bride’s bouquet.
In looking at some of the early uses of the word wish-bone, notice Jan. 1854, “The Western Odd Fellows’ Magazine’s” story of Thanksgiving discussed the custom of pulling the wishbone, and used the word. – Vol. II, No. VII.
Mary Elizabeth Prentiss used it in a novel in 1868 in which she also discussed the custom of pulling the wish-bone. In her version the one who came away with the largest piece would have a wish granted. “Mama says she always used to wish to be good, when she had a wish-bone, that’s the reason she is so good now”. – “Little Lou’s Sayings and Doings”. 1868. NY.
There are various legends about how the wishbone became a symbol of good luck, but as I’ve not yet discovered an ancient primary text I’ll leave that to the interested reader to pursue. By the 1880’s, however, the legend was well known. “A New York firm sent a large order to Michigan for “wishbones” to be gilded and fastened to good-luck cards for Christmas”. – “Good Housekeeping”. March 3, 1888.
Whether you call it a merry-thought or a wish-bone, it wasn’t at all good luck for the fowl from whence it came. © Blissful Meals, TheHistoricFoodie.