December 21, 2004

Higher-order whammying

From an 12/21/2004 NYT article by Cordelia Dean on heat-tolerant algae in coral reefs:

About half the reefs that were left badly damaged after the 1997-98 El Niño event have bounced back, Dr. Baker said. "So even from a major event there can be recovery," he said, if overfishing, habitat destruction and other threats are mitigated. "But there can't be recovery if we triple and quadruple whammy these reefs."

Whammy started life as a noun meaning "an evil influence or hex", apparently derived from wham "blow". The OED's earliest citation for whammy is about baseball:

1940 J. R. TUNIS Kid from Tomkinsville x. 151 Interest round the field now centered in the Kid's chances for a no-hit game... On the bench everyone realized it too, but everyone kept discreetly quiet on account of the Whammy. Mustn't put the Whammy on him!

and the second one is this from Al Capp's Li'l Abner in July of 1951:

Evil-Eye Fleegle is th' name, an' th' ‘whammy’ is my game. Mudder Nature endowed me wit' eyes which can putrefy citizens t' th' spot!.. There is th' ‘single whammy’! That, friend, is th' full, pure power o' one o' my evil eyes! It's dynamite, friend, an' I do not t'row it around lightly!.. And, lastly--th' ‘double whammy’--namely, th' full power o' both eyes--which I hopes I never hafta use.

Evil-Eye Fleegle seems to have been the source of most Americans' experience of whammies, and especially quantified whammies. Apparently he later advanced to the quadruple whammy, which "could melt a battleship but almost kill Fleegle himself", though it's not clear to me what the anatomical correlates were for whammies above order 2.

There's clearly been some whammy inflation since 1951, since the double whammy has become by far the commonest whammy, according to Google:

Phrase web hits
on Google
"single whammy"
"double whammy"
"triple whammy"
"quadruple whammy"
"quintuple whammy"

The verbal form used in the NYT quote ("if we triple and quadruple whammy these reefs") doesn't make it into any of the dictionaries that I've checked, but it's definitely out there:

The main thrust of the Commission's proposals seek to 'double whammy' current Tier 2 assisted areas such as Wigan.
We're getting double-whammied by a policy producing a trade deficit approaching $50 billion per month, or 6% to 7% of gross domestic product. .
Long term investors look for these opportunities and they relieve other investors of their investment that has double-whammied them.\
There is a pattern emerging that I'm betting against all the teams I bet the under on so if I'm wrong it will double whammy me.
"His daughter was almost 'double-whammied' last week by a jealous neighbour" was another rumour.
As one of their reps once double whammied "you can tell it's a Linn playing before you even go in the room".

Some of these uses are little strange -- "as one of their reps once double whammied"? -- but for the most part, you can read past them without even noticing. That's certainly the case for the phrase "if we triple and quadruple whammy these reefs" in the cited NYT article. It's interesting how different faith is in this regard. Verbal uses of faith remain quite striking, at least to me.


Posted by Mark Liberman at December 21, 2004 09:27 AM