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?

Ron Miller

How about "Wishy Washy".


"Oh no you didnt"
"in your face"
"Talk to the hand, the face dont understand"
"you know what I'm saying"


God: "Go forth and multiply"
Bowie: "Wham bam thank you ma'am"

Eric M. Jones.

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.


where does the saying "the world is your oyster" come from?

Reminds me of . . .

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?"


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...

Garson O'Toole

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.

Garson O'Toole

In 1925 the Barbasol shaving cream company ran an interesting advertisement in The American Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. The phrase "the old, slam-bang, thank-you-ma'ams" is used to refer to old-fashioned automobile tires which produced a bumpy and jolting ride. The advertisement contrasted these tires with the new balloon tires which allowed for a more comfortable riding experience

Here is an excerpt extracted from Google Books archive (not verified on paper):

The Balloon-tired shave

All who want to give up the nice, fat, easy-chair balloons and go back to the old, slam-bang, thank-you-ma'ams of motoring, stand up! We thought so.

Barbasol smooths out the shaving road the same new, modern, easy way. Takes all the ruts and bumps and hairpin turns out of the razor tour.

[End excerpt]

These instances suggest a hypothesis: The phrase may have been shifted from the domain of automobiles and tires into a sexual domain and assigned a new meaning. Alternatively, it is also possible that the advertising copy writers were exploiting a double-entendre.



I always get annoyed by people who say, "It's always darkest just before the dawn," usually said to cheer somebody up who's down on their luck with hope of better times. I'd prefer people either offer a unique thought or something that makes scientific sense. Where did this horrible quote come from?


@Josh, I really liked that quote and its got many plays on it like "there is light at the end of te tunnel", but in my reading of a Stephen Hymer essay who quotes Theodor Mommsen: "The dawn does not return till after the night has run its course" and he was in turn talking about the demise of the Roman empire I think if I remember correct :)

The quote I'm interested in finding its origin is that of: "If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything." who first said this??


Wham bam thank you ma'am, whenever I've read the term in context, referred to hasty sex for hire with a prostitute. I somehow think I first read it in Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and The Single Girl. It can also mean a fast liaison with someone, leaving the woman unsatisfied, and feeling, well, like a lady of the evening.

Charlie Ksir

I always imagined that what popularized the phrase was a joke that was going around in the 1950s about a rooster who said "wham bam, thank you ma'm" after servicing each hen. I have a vague memory that then the rooster meets some unfortunate end, but I unfortunately can't remember the joke and can't seem to find a reference to it.

Stephen Kennedy


Above is a link to a site regarding WWII and a picture of a plane with B.Bunny and "Wham! Bam! Thank you, Ma'm"

c.r. price

A "wham bam thank-you mam" describes a man taking a fast pleasure without regard for the pleasure of the woman.


Wham Bam Thank You Mam comes from an old joke about a nearsighted rabbit. He gets up in the morning and the first thing he sees is a lady rabbit. So he jumps on her and totally tears off a raging one . And he says" Wham Bam Thank You Mam" After a while sees another and does the same. and then another. Then he sees a big grey rock and jumps on it. Not good. So he says " OHHHH OUCH DAMM !!!! NO Thank You Mam"