Macquarie Dictionary


Wibble-wobble and boing

My attention has been drawn to the creation of the new verb, to wibble-wobble, meaning ‘to prevaricate’.  This is a contribution of Mathias Cormann who made reference to the nursery rhyme, Jelly on a Plate which has the verse

Jelly on a plate, jelly on a plate
Wibble wobble, wibble wobble, jelly on a plate.

This has been followed by discussions about whether Labor will wibble and wobble, and whether they have a wibble-wobble budget policy.

The nursery rhyme itself has no place in the dictionary, but if our politicians continue to use the lexical item they have forged from it, then we will have wibblewobble in the headword list. It is too early to tell but we will keep an eye on its progress.

Of course some of the charm, the playfulness of this word, lies in its onomatopoeic nature. The rhyme goes on to use such words as sizzle, whirl, and popSizzle and pop are imitative of sounds. Whirl has an origin in Old Norse which has nothing to do with a sound, but has, I think, ended up, for us in Modern English, evoking a sound.

There are some coined representations of sound that are so well known that they are in the dictionary. Bam, splat, kerching. The sounds that animals make are represented in fairly standard ways – moo, baa, quack, although the standardness is limited to a particular language. Sheep may baa in English but they will do something else in another language. Frogs croak in English, although more recently they go ribbit or rebbit, but in Ancient Greek, according to Aristophanes, they say krekekekex koax koax.

We deal with noises of the body in this way, as well. Burp and barf come to mind.  Gurgle, guffaw and sob. Squitters. Ok, we will leave it there.

Cartoon strips are wonderfully inventive in this direction to the point where it would be impossible to record every sound word that is created. Boing is one, however, that we need to add.

These words do have immediate appeal. The fact that wibble-wobble has taken an extra step into Australian politics is the result of a chance connection made in the brain of our Finance Minister. We will see if it leaves any lasting mark on Australian English.

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