Just prior to Congress voting on President Obama’s Health Care Plan, I picked up a Washington D.C. newspaper and read where a certain Senator was being wishy-washy. Putting the newspaper down, I wondered how many other readers understood what the word wishy-washy meant. My mother always use the term when referring to neighbors who appeared unwilling to take sides on any issue. Being satisfied with my mother’s use of the word, I felt that I fully understood the Senator’s position on this important piece of social legislation. However, I was curious as to what was the dictionary’s definition of these words. First, there is the noun “wish-wash” describing a weak or insipid drink. (This needs further investigation.) Wishy-Washy when used as an adjective describes something that is thin, weak, feeble, and ineffective. I’ll let you decide whether my mother used this adjective (wishy-washy) correctly.
The English language contains over 2 million words. A surprising number of the words rhyme and when repeated have a powerful appeal to the human ear. From the time a child is born it is exposed to repetitive sounds. Parents encourage it to say “Mama” and then make much to-do when their baby says its first word. A young child is told to let their mommy know when it is time to pee-pee or poo-poo and if they forget then it is a big boo-boo. At bedtime the child is tucked under the covers and told it is “snug as a bug in a rug.” Grandparents are called “Nana” and “Papa” and wave “bye-bye” when they leave. Mother insists that all baby food is “Yummy for the Tummy” and she says “Boo hoo” when the child tries to cry.
During the child’s terrible twos everything is a “No-No don’t touch” or “Never ever do that again.” A train locomotive is called a choo-choo, a dog is called a bow-wow, and the child’s little toe is a piggy that goes “Wee-wee-wee” all the way home. Nursery rhymes are introduced at an early age with such characters as Humpty Dumpty, the wolf that huffed and puffed, and Chicken Licken (aka Chicken Little) and all his barn yard friends with names of Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy. The TV or boob tube is employed as a baby sitter device and thus the child is entertained for hours watching Big Bird, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Mickey Mouse.
Later on the child goes to school wearing a backpack and learns about the American Indians who live in Teepees and Wigwams, hold Pow-wows and beat on tom-toms. In first grade the child hears about the poor worm “Ooey-gooey” that ends up on the railroad track and about the bear “Fussy wassy” who had no hair. By eighth grade teenagers are convinced that their parents are nitwits and their teachers give them junk to make them flunk plus all school books are filled with gobbly gook.
To back track I find that namby-pamby may be substituted for wishy-washy. Both terms are known officially as reduplications of sound. This is all for now on this subject, but I will write more in a little while; crocodile. Wait for another blog later; alligator.