It is a term used loosely and also very specifically, that of fiddling. Here follows an idiosyncratic glance at a few places it turns up.
One man’s violin is another man’s (or woman’s) fiddle. Strictly speaking, I’ve been fiddling for most of my life, but not in the down-home-bluegrass sense, nor in the fooling-around sense; although there has been plenty of the latter, it usually has not involved my violin. When I had the idea to create the get-well card, I began wondering about the origins of one expression that mentions that particular stringed instrument. We readily refer to feeling “fit as a fiddle” without giving much — or any — thought to what it really means and how it may have developed. As is so often the case with phrases and sayings that go back a considerable time in history, there are differences of opinion among the etymological authorities and comfortable misunderstandings among the rest of us. It would appear that this phrase contained the all-important letter “r” when first used (sincere gratitude to Mr. Albert Jack for this revelation), which it somehow managed, over the centuries, to lose; the fiddler of medieval times evolved into the puzzling, misconstrued fiddle that has given rise to so much speculation and imaginative — though misbegotten — theorizing.
Fiddling promotes emotional and spiritual health
Of that statement just above, I have no doubt in my own case, and I know it to be true of untold numbers of colleagues, both professional and amateur — and listening to fiddling is definitely beneficial to spiritual and emotional well-being also. However, the theories vary widely as to how the instrument itself came to be regarded as an example of fitness and what, indeed, we are talking about when we use it as such. Of all the wide-ranging and imaginative hypotheses (plus other colorful uses of the fiddle as metaphor; scroll down the linked-to page)I have come across, the explanation referred to above seems to me by far the most plausible: ‘t is the fiddler who must be fit. I can wholeheartedly attest to the everlasting truth of that notion right up to this day and age, although the instrument’s condition is also crucial.
Fiddling while our hearts burn
My own thoughts about a fit fiddle, I realize, were unconsciously tied up in the instrument’s state. Fiddling — the classical music variety — in my own experience has usually meant that everything had to be just so (the rare exception being the occasion when a violin of the more common type is exchanged for a sparkling blue one). For a very different take on all things violin-related, here is Mark O’Connor performing his Fiddle Concerto: