Where Does “Wham, bam” Come From?

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent researches.

merry staser asked:

“‘Wham, bam … thank you ma’m'”  We have been looking for this one all over and can’t seem to find out where it came from … (travelling in a carriage … was one we found … but not a full explanation). Thanks.”

I don’t have a full explanation (and I’m not sure one is necessary, the meaning of the expression is obvious).  The earliest occurrence I know of is in the 1948 play Mister Roberts, where a sailor character says “Well there goes the liberty.  That was sure a wham-bam-thank-you ma’am!”

tunaman asked:

“I heard that Benjamin Franklin once said (in ‘Poor Richard’s Almanac’) ‘a watched pot never boils over’, which is a totally different concept than ‘a watched pot never boils’.  I once looked for this online, but didn’t come up with much one way or the other. Any ideas?”

The usual form of the proverb is, of course, “a watched pot never boils.”  Neither form appears in Benjamin Franklin’s writings.

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

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  1. Ron Miller says:

    How about “Wishy Washy”.

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  2. Chris says:

    “Oh no you didnt”
    “in your face”
    “Talk to the hand, the face dont understand”
    “you know what I’m saying”

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  3. AlmostGotFiredForThisOne says:

    God: “Go forth and multiply”
    Bowie: “Wham bam thank you ma’am”

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  4. Eric M. Jones. says:

    I looked up “wam bam” on a hunch and found:

    Vassar College. Folk-lore Foundation – 1922 – Free Google eBook – Read
    (Butler’s.) Annt – y Mar – y , hear me tnne tune, wam [sp] – bam hoe. Aunty Mary, hear me tune tune, Wam bam hoe! … The men dig by note, raise the stick at “Aunty Mary” and dig in at “Wam bam hoe!”

    There seems to be an earlier reference too.

    I suspect the various ways to spell hides many truths.

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  5. Georgia says:

    where does the saying “the world is your oyster” come from?

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  6. Reminds me of . . . says:

    Even with a polite “thank you, ma’am”, the question still remains, as it did when John Ball first asked it in 1381, “when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman?”

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  7. achilles3 says:

    Was the “of course” necessary?
    I read every post on this blog and have for a long time and Mr. Shaprio’s tone just kills any sort of “ah ha” moment for me…

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  8. Garson O'Toole says:

    Max Shulman was a prominent humorist who in 1943 published the novel “Barefoot Boy with Cheek”. According to Google Books the following passage appears in the book:

    A barefoot maiden in a white gown entered bearing a young ram above her head. She deposited the ram in Roger’s lap. “Ram, bam, Thank you ma’am” he said.

    The use of the word “ram” instead of “slam” is probably a form of comic wordplay, and this implies that the phrase “Slam, bam, Thank you ma’am” was known by 1943. I have not verified this citation on paper. Also, the claim of wordplay is not certain.

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