Whacko-the-diddle-oh, Boris

Filed in Archive, Blog by on August 31, 2013 3 Comments


Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, likes a Polly Waffle. Both the chocolate type and the polysyllabic type. In Melbourne to deliver the Writers Festival keynote address on 22 August, Boris lamented the Polly Waffle had been “banished” since his last visit to Australia in his younger days.

He launched not only the Melbourne Writers Festival but a new conspiracy theory. Namely, that once “Swiss chocolate barons” took over the manufacturing of Polly Waffles in Australia, these marshmallow-filled logs lined with waffle and coated with chocolate had to be “banished before the rest of the world discovered them and no one ever wanted to eat another Toblerone”.

This made sense. And so did the other theme for his keynote address: “urbanophobia”. Well, eventually it made sense. This polysyllabic word is the creation of Boris. Urbanophobia means a fear of cities.

Boris argued that cities are often stereotyped as dirty complexes of corrupted people, whereas rural areas are often depicted as clean places where honest folk can live healthy lifestyles. Luke Skywalker’s original home was cited as an example, before he was forced into the “ultimate city” of the Death Star.

To rebut this myth, Boris argued that cities could generate brilliant creativity. Not only (his) London Olympics but Shakespeare.

Having convinced the Melbourne Town Hall audience on his two main themes, Boris asked the director of the festival, Lisa Dempster, what her favourite Australian expression was. She liked “strewth”. Boris nodded his intense and sincere agreement.

Boris then spoke about his favourite Australian expression, but I didn’t hear it because I was enjoying the realisation that my own favourite Australian expression had spontaneously popped into my head: “whacko-the-diddle-oh”.

If you are lacking a good education and don’t know what whacko-the-diddle-oh means, you will find it in the Macquarie Dictionary, and possibly others. It is listed as a colloquial interjection that is “an expression of pleasure, delight, etc.” I suspect it comes from someone slapping their leg after diddling (tricking) a rich person out of money, property or livestock.

The swagman in Waltzing Matilda could well have said this after flogging the famous jumbuck. In fact, you can sing “whacko-the-diddle-oh” over the chorus of Waltzing Matilda and it scans perfectly, as long as the last line is sung as “Who’ll come a whacking the diddle-oh with me?”

This final line carries a self-stimulation connotation that may be in keeping with the ballad’s creation by Banjo Paterson. After all, Banjo was cosying up to the beautiful Christina Macpherson (an ancestor of Elle’s?) at the piano in a Queensland bush homestead while she played a tune she’d heard at the Warrnambool steeplechase the previous year (1894), to which Banjo adapted his poem Waltzing Matilda.

I’m confident that Freudian theorists would agree with me on Paterson’s unconscious motivation.

More importantly, however, than the origin of whacko-the-diddle-oh, is its potential to change world history. This might seem a stretch, but think about it. The expression combines a feeling of good-natured appreciation with a casual way of bringing the recipient down to earth.

For instance, if Hitler’s speechwriter had inserted a few whacko-the-diddle-ohs into Adolf’s tirades at Nuremberg, perhaps World War 2 would never have happened. The German people would have felt appreciated for re-building their nation after World War 1, yet wouldn’t have taken anyone too seriously who dropped whacko-the-diddle-oh into his speeches. Just trying doing that stiff right-arm salute while blurting “Vacko-ze-diddle-oh!” and you’ll see what I mean.

Perhaps the Cold War could have been defused earlier if President Kennedy had thrown a couple of well-timed whacko-the-diddle-ohs into his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech during his 1963 visit to West Berlin. At the time, the Soviet Union was stockpiling ever more nuclear warheads to match NATO’s arsenal. But how could the Soviets have continued to defend their Berlin Wall after such a disarming piece of rhetoric?

Then again, the changes in history may not always have been for the better. For instance, it’s hard to imagine Martin Luther King’s inspiring “I have a dream” speech changing the world if he’d dropped in a whacko-the-diddle-oh at the climactic moment.

There are plenty of other historical speeches – Churchill’s “Fight them on beaches”, Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war after Pearl Harbor, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – on which whacko-the-diddle-oh may have impacted favourably. Or not.

Great lines from movies are a whole other kettle of fish: “Frankly, my dear I don’t give a whacko-the-diddle-oh”, “Hasta la whacko-the-diddle-oh, baby” or “You can’t handle the whacko-the-diddle-oh!” Enough said.

If Tony Abbott’s speechwriters want to endear him to “the Australian people” after his inevitable election win next Saturday (the change of government we had to have), and simultaneously dispel his reputation for negativity and misogyny, there is only one expression he needs to reach for during his victory speech. And for good measure he should say it twice, as he usually does, in case we’re too stupid to get it the first time.

At the very least, you may now understand why I can’t recall Boris Johnson’s favourite Australian expression. If anyone can let me know, they will receive my sincere whacko-the-diddle-oh.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Ian Manning says:

    As a teenager some 67 years ago, my parents took me to a vaudeville show at the Adelaide Theatre Royal. From memory, the two comedians swapping gags were George Wallace and Jim Gerald – in one of the skits, Wallace uttered ‘”Whacko the diddle-oh, you bloody beaut !” to Gerald. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the context in which the expression was used.

    • Euan Mitchell says:

      You’re probably right about the expression’s origins in vaudeville or similar. Even if first used as a spontaneous exclamation in an everyday situation, it was probably popularised through theatre and possibly radio.

  2. Mel says:

    Hilarious! Thank you:)

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