Dear Straight Dope:
We are going a bit mad in the office here due to the unexpected hot weather. Could you please tell us where the saying "whoops-a-daisy" comes from? Speed is of the essence as we may just explode without knowing. Thanks for your help and please excuse the British madness.
Chris Morbey, London
SDStaff Dex replies:
With all respect to our British cousins, we think getting into a dither about “whoops-a-daisy” bespeaks a pretty low threshold of madness. We have taken the liberty of delaying our reply in hopes of toughening you up. If you think whoops-a-daisy is madness-inducing, wait till we drag you into a war with Iraq.
Alas, as with many etymologies, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Terms such as “up-a-daisy” dates to the early 1700s, as an encouragement to a child who has fallen to stand up, or as an exclamation upon lifting a child. It’s basically a nonsense phrase, presumably intended to amuse the little ones. Variants include “upsi-daisy” or “upsy-daisy” from the 1860s as well as “upsa-daisy” … any of them with or without hyphens.
The first use of “whoops-a-daisy” per se is around 1925, in a New Yorker cartoon. It’s an expression of surprise or dismay, specifically upon discovering one’s own error. The modern-day equivalent would be “D’oh!”, I’m afraid, which is much less expressive. The term was shortened to “whoops” by 1937, and appears in that form in a letter by Ezra Pound, no less. One assumes that it was related to the expression “to whoop,” as in giving “whoops of joy.” That usage goes back to the early 1600s.
Earlier usage of “whoop” as a verb (“the falconer whoops his hawks”) is found in the early 1400s. To cry whoop during a hunt was to indicate that the game was dead. And whoop was very quickly associated with other phrases, such as “Whope! who!” (1450) and “Whoop diddle” (1596.) The use of “whoop” or “whup” as an exclamation of surprise or derision appears in 1568.
Whoop appears in other slang, as to whoop it up (meaning to have a riotous time, to live it up) from 1884. “Making whoopee” arose in the US around 1927. For you Brits, the term “whoopsie” is apparently a child’s word for excrement. Making whoopie, making whoopsie–be careful with your phraseology, all you transatlantic couples. Things could go really wrong.
Not sure if we’ve hit the answer you were looking for, but I had a whoop of a time researching it.
SDStaff Dex, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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