Friday, January 22, 2010

Whammy? Whammy!

Brits got it, thanks to Chris Patten, who engineered the "double whammy" of his own: cooking up the poster slogan that won it for the Tories in 1992, while managing to lose his own seat at Bath in the same election.

This being Britain, the staider columnists tended to sneer at the populism of the term.

Malcolm assumed that Patten, a benign and civilised creature for a Tory, had borrowed it from the 1988 novel by Carl Hiaasen (left). If so, more credit to him. Particularly so, because in electoral terms, it was laying a bait to catch the passing attention of an easily-hooked dupe. And if ever the electorate was hooked, cooked, battered and fried, it was immediately after that election.

Al Capp

There were, among the more cerebral pundits, attempts to explain the imported term. As Malcolm recalls, most traced it back to the seminal Li'l Abner strip by Al Capp, where it was the weapon of choice of "Eagle-eye Fleagle" (apparently the agreed spelling, but not Al Capp's).

The Oxford English Dictionary (which, as habitués of this column well-know, is Malcolm's instant resort on these occasions) ascribes it to 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.
That may be Eagle-eye Fleegle's most comprehensive self-definition, but (since the strip ran from 1934) it cannot be the first.

For one example, it is claimed that the first bombs of the Korean War were dropped by the B-29 Superfortress "Double Whammy" on 28 June 1950.

Yet even Li'l Abner is not the origin here. Al Capp "borrowed" the "Eagle-eye" from Ben Finkle, former boxer, from St Louis once upon a time, patronised by Dion O'Banion in Chicago's mob-wars, but a long-term resident of Miami, and possessor of the deadly look.

All of which is incidental, prompted by Malcolm re-reading The Final Days, Woodward and Bernstein's exhaustive (and even exhausting) follow-up to All the President's Men.

We reach Sunday, 28th July, 1974: the end of a climactic week in which the Supreme Court had ruled 8-0 that Nixon's tapes must be handed over to the Special Prosecutor and the House Judiciary Committee had approved the first article of impeachment. Nixon and his entourage are heading back to the capital:
Air Force One departed El Toro Air Base for Washington at 2:26 P.M. The mood on board was somber. [White House Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander] Haig and [Press Secretary Ron] Ziegler were forward in the President's cabin. Both went back to speak with the reporters in the press section, emphasizing the line they had adopted since the Judiciary Committee vote. There had been reverses, a "triple whammy", Haig conceded, but they had not given up on the vote in the full House. The President, Ziegler maintained, was disappointed with recent developments, but not discouraged. Haig did not foresee resignation.
Ah yes: there it is, again. Was that Patten's source? Sphere: Related Content

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