Instead of the puerile taunts and insults which usually typify political debate, dictionaries and derivations are playing a big part in the “phoney war” leading up to Britain’s general election.
The dispute arises from an advertisement produced by the ruling Conservative Party, designed to frighten voters away from the labour opposition. A UK version of “rooigevaar”
The ad features a giant pair of red boxing gloves inscribed with the words “more axes” and “higher prices” and carrying the headline “Labour’s double Whammy!”
“Double Whammy” may not be all that mystifying to South Africans, but it’s got the Poms in a real tizz. Tory minister Chris Patten, who is responsible for the election ad campaign, has been challenged to produce a dictionary which recognizes the expression.
The OED naturally does not stoop to recognize such a vulgar Americanism. And after political writers failed locate the expression in Eric Cartridge’s celebrated dictionary of Slang, the Conservative Central Office was forced to provide a comprehensive of references.
Webster’s Dictionary explains “whammy” as a kind of curse, a hex, or the evil eye. This is supported by Partridge’s trans- Atlantic counterpart, Chapman’s definitive American Slang.
Tory spokesmen, perhaps trying to soften the impact of “evil eye” on religious sensitivities, sanitised Webster’s definition and claimed that a “double whammy” was a lethal blow.
Wordsworth has got news for them. Further word-fowling suggests that “whammy” and “double whammy” have been around for a long time, although the latter was popularised by American novelist Joseph Heller of catch-22 fame.
As long ago as 1951, the cartoon strip Li’l Abner featured a character called Evil Eye Fleegle who explained that with one eye he could deliver a “whammy which can putrefy citizens to the spot.”
Using both eyes, he could throw a “double whammy which I hopes I never hafta use!”
Considering all the fuss in South Africa about the so-called “mark of the beast” symbolism involved in referendum voting procedures, a Tory-style “double whammy” campaign with evil eye implications would be denounced from every pulpit.
Perhaps the Australian derivation would be more acceptable. There a double whammy is a potent hangover cure comprising a double dose of effervescent vitamin C tablets, a double dose soluble aspirin, and a double dose of Alka- Seltzer in a long glass of water.
By the time the electioneering is over, either here or in Britain, we’re probably going to need it.