Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Whence the Whoopie?

Language mythbusters should be pleased by Monday's story in the Wall Street Journal on the fight between Maine and Pennsylvania over credit for inventing the "Whoopie Pie."

Traditionally, this kind of piece just retells the competing origin myths -- the more absurd the better -- and leaves it at that. Was it Amish moms who invented the dessert, inspiring kids to yell "Whoopie" when they opened their school lunchboxes? Or the owners of a bakery founded in 1925 in Lewiston, Maine -- whose records were unfortunately lost in a fire? Who knows?

But reporter Sumathi Reddy went the extra mile, interviewing Nancy Griffin, author of a 2010 book on the Whoopie Pie. She, in turn, had tracked down the earliest known Whoopies at the website of etymologist Barry Popik, who cites a 1931 ad for "Berwick whoopee pie" made in Roxbury, Mass., along with pretty much all that we know (so far) about the term "whoopie pie" (aka "whoopee pie").

And the name itself? "Because whoopie is a catchy name, food historians believe it must have been coined commercially," says the Journal.  Author Griffin, however, thinks the name came from a familiar 1928 show tune:
"It is believed they really got their name from the Gus Kahn song" and a popular term used at the time to get around Hollywood censors, says Ms. Griffin. It was called: "Makin' Whoopee."


Kay L. Davies said...

I thought of the phrase "makin' whoopie" as well, so there's one vote for the origin.
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

John Burgess said...

The idea of Depression era folks making whoopie with marshmallows and chocolate is really, really setting up a cognitive dissonance in my head.

That's not to say it's wrong, of course. It's just to say wow/ugh!

Unknown said...

But in order for "makin' whoopie" to stand for something else to get past the censors, it had to have been in use earlier...not necessarily as a dessert.

John Lawler said...

I've known all my life that it was a conventional interjection, expressing joy. For any kind of enjoyment, though usually physical rather than mental; a "whoopee" for mental or emotional joy is apt to be ironic in use. More male than female, more child than adult. Associated vaguely with cowboys.
My talking life started about 1944; but when later i heard "Makin' Whoopee", it made perfect sense. "Whoopie" (note variant spellings, one mark of a common vocal expression) makes as much marketing sense as a confection name as "Yippee" or "Wow" or any other strong emotion expressor. It's likely to occur to lots of people in the same situation.
So they could both be right, which is more likely, imo.

John C said...

What the heck is a whoopie pie?