Contemplating Whoomp, There It Is
Or, I think way too much about words
The other day I was in the grocery store, trying to maneuver around a young mother, who had one in the cart and two rambunctious boys bouncing from side-to-side in the canned foods aisle. The young mother, in an attempt to corral the boys, advised them to “stop runnin’ around like chickens with yer heads cut off or I’ll whup ya.”
Whuppin’ ya is a phrase I’ve heard more than a few times around town, usually aimed at kids, and usually intended to get them to change their behavior less they have a consequence, in this case, a whuppin’, which I assume is a kinder, gentler form of a whipping.
It always sounds to me, though I have no way of knowing this for sure, that the folks who use whup on a regular basis were raised by people who said the same, on account of people like teachers and coaches aren’t allowed to threaten whuppin’, so far as I know. I’m guessing this phrase is handed down from parents to children.
One thing I’ve learned about parenting is that when you’re faced with a situation you haven’t thought through, you tend to default parent in the manner you were parented. Unless you’ve made one of those capital B Big Decisions to not parent in the way you were parented, in which case when faced with a new situation, you tend to stare blankly and quietly and hope things somehow resolve themselves quickly.
I can’t hear someone threaten to whup their offspring without thinking of whup ass, which is a noun, and such a noun it is that it can actually be canned. And while I love the phrase opening a can of whup ass, it always confuses me that you have to do it on someone. When I hear someone say “I’m going to open a can of whup ass on you,” I imagine having to open the can and then climb up a small step ladder to dump it on someone. But I guess this preposition is intended to differentiate cans of whup-ass from spinach, which, when canned (as it apparently was and possibly still is) was the whup ass of Popeye’s day.
If you’ve never seen a Popeye cartoon, I’m guessing you don’t remember what TV was like before cable came along. People of a certain age were subjected to a lot of Popeye cartoons (and even one live-action movie with Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall.) Luckily, there was only one plot to follow for all Popeye cartoons, which was this:
In a situation that invariably arises because of his love for Olive Oyl, Popeye faces down one or more bad guys (at least one of whom was or was named Bluto, or Brutus, depending on when the cartoon was made). They knock Popeye around for a bit until he somehow ingests a can of spinach, and then swiftly kicks their asses.
The only variable to any Popeye episode was how Popeye got the can open and ate the spinach. Sometimes he squeezed the can so the spinach would fly through the air to his mouth. Sometimes he had to use his pipe like a blowtorch to open the can. And sometimes, and this always freaked me out a little bit, he sucked the spinach into his body through the pipe.
I should point out here that whup ass is often spelled “Whoop Ass,” which is how Jones Soda chose to spell it when the term inevitably became the name of an energy drink.
I’m not a fan of this spelling, though, because it is so close to “Whoomp!” as in “Whoomp! There it is,” which is a song from the early 1990s by Tag Team (whose career has just skyrocketed since then), and I have to admit to looking up the lyrics online, where I learned that ”these three words mean you’re getting’ busy!”
Tag Team! I hear they’re being considered for Popeye II: Electric Bugaloo.
I’m not sure if “Whoomp” is included in the three words, or if just “there it is” are the three words they’re talking about. And since “getting busy” means what I think it means, I end up somewhat confused by that fact that they play the song at hockey games when a goal is scored.
For all the convenience of the Internet (Motto: “The full lyrics to Whoomp! There it is! in under 5 seconds”), I’m still confused about the actual meaning of Whoomp. While some dictionaries point out that whoomp represents a loud-but-muffled or possibly distant sound, the Urban Dictionary offers up this gem:
whoomp: 1. (n)(obs.) the place where it is 2. (n) the place where it was.
I think the source of my confusion about whoomp, however, stems from its visual similarity to Whoops! which we all know well enough is something we say when we have made an unintentional mistake. Like this blog post, for example. Whoops!
We start our kids out early with Whoops (as early as some folks start threatening’ them with a whuppin’).
Whoopsies! we say at the occasion of a dropped sippy cup. A tumbling toddler might even elicit a “Whoopsie Daisies!” from a helicopter parent.
Whoopsie Daisies, you may recall, is what Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill (the 1999 film you should not admit to having seen) says when he tries and fails to scale the walls of a private garden while he is out gallivanting with an American movie star played by Julia Roberts.
She finds this whoopsie daisies so amusing and endearing that she decides that Grant and the little blue travel bookstore that he runs in Notting Hill are definitely the life for her.
I know I’m running a fine line here, starting out with whup ass and then transitioning into Notting Hill and all, but it’s about to get worse. Way worse.
See, a few years ago I was in the UK with a weekend to spare between business trips, and somehow found myself in the Notting Hill area of London. I turned a corner and, sure enough, there was the little blue travel bookstore from the movie.
The proprietors confirm this with a historical marker-looking sign that confirms that this is the site of the bookshop from the film Notting Hill. They do say you can really feel the history in England, after all. Established in 1981! Ooooh!
So almost without thinking about it, I extended my arm, smartphone in hand, to take a selfie of myself in front of this landmark location in cinematic history. Also, in researching this post, I discovered the shop closed last year. So, you know, if you missed your chance to see it, your shit out of luck.
A quick aside, here: Selfie, meaning a photo you take of yourself, probably with a phone, really seems to have taken off as a word in the past six months or so, definitely aided by the rise of social media and our ongoing experiment in the brandification of self. I can only imagine that the Catholic church is thrilled and relieved that selfie is a noun referring to a picture you take of yourself, given the other activity we might have choseselfie to describe, the one which can make you go blind.
Anyway, at the time I was in the UK, selfie had yet to catch on for either activity, leaving me in Notting Hill, standing in front of the travel bookshop from the film Notting Hill, thinking I’ll attach it to an email later that I can send home to my wife, because texting photos was still quite new idea then, and doing it over an International Carrier a daunting prospect. I remember pausing in the morning sunlight and trying and remember what exact year Notting Hill came out, just to ensure that my mind is not mixed up and that the woman I saw it in the theater with is not the woman who is currently my wife and would-be recipient of the not-yet-called-a-selfie selfie. I was pretty sure it was the late 90s, which means I either saw Notting Hill in the theater with my wife, or I was drugged by communists and taken there against my will.
Cleared for selfie.
What happened next was unexpected. Describing it is not difficult, but understandingwhy it happened is trickier. As I was about to take the picture and was trying to remember the exact year Notting Hill was in theaters, I accidentally, which is to say entirely on purpose, threw my phone to the ground and stomped on it repeatedly. Then I clenched my fist, closed my eyes and shouted the following sentences across the English morning:
BRITISH PEOPLE! I ALMOST TOOK A SELFIE OF MYSELF IN FRONT OF THE BOOKSTORE FROM NOTTING HILL! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY BALLS?
Ok, I didn’t do that, which you probably know because, as I mentioned, the word selfiehadn’t caught on yet. But I did stand there in the bright morning light wondering what the hell was wrong with me, not taking a photo, not going into the bookstore, not going anywhere in particular, just me staring blankly and quietly, and hoping the situation would resolve itself quickly.
Not a pretty picture of modern manhood I’m afraid, but what else can I say? I yam what I yam.
Whoomp! There it is.
This post was originally published on ColumbusCalling.com.
Post Script: To make your day truly surreal,I encourage you to explore the controversy surrounding whether or not President Obama actually appeared in Tag Team’s 1993 video for Whoomp, There it is.