The Road to Wazoo

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The OED has wazoo, n., glossed as "The buttocks; the anus",  noting that it is used "Freq. as a (euphemistic) substitute for ass in fig. phrases, as pain in the wazoo, etc.", giving special notice to the expression up (also out) the wazoo, glossed as "in great quantities, in abundance, to excess.

Wiktionary has the gloss "(vulgar, slang) the anus; ass", with derived terms listed as up the wazoo and out the wazoo, both glossed as "(vulgar, idiomatic) up the ass; excessive or excessively; too much".

But as a result of phonetic processes like those discussed here the other day, the pronunciation of the in a phrase like "up the wazoo" often overlaps with what the pronunciation of to would be in a similar context.

Whence the phrasal eggcorns up to wazoo and out to wazoo … 

Some web examples:

They have CTAs and images and infographics up to wazoo
If this were a private business, he would be sued up to wazoo.
Dude, those things can be upgraded up to wazoo and compete with a new mac pro
Anyone can pepper their website with keywords and links up to wazoo, but if they're embedded in bad content, you lose points by virtue of their ubiquitous existence.
… Greek salads up to wazoo …
You didn't have to turn your A/v receiver up to wazoo just to get a decent sound level.
it's got creative types up to wazoo who can make it all look rustically attractive and cool,
Each carrier wants the phone customized up to wazoo for them, so we get this kind of fragmentation.
But I still have boxes from our move up to wazoo and honestly, quick and easy dinners is my game.
You'd have to poll up to wazoo to find these caucusgoers

the next thing you know you have a 50 slide masterpiece with titles, photos and transitions out to wazoo
overwhelmed with feeding everyone, keeping everything clean and cleaning after everyone, laundry out to wazoo, my school work, bandage changes etc.
Her parents, who were living in a fabulous condo in Naples, had investments and insurance out to wazoo.
Once we kick out all the illegal immigrants and raise our food prices out to wazoo, will Americans starve to death?
You can still go nuts tweaking it out to wazoo, but it is better functioning right out of the box than a base cygwin install.
Cocktails out to wazoo!
Even though I was spending money out to wazoo on products I was not actually taking the time to implement any of them.
They're really fun but I see a lot of people on here with diamonds out to wazoo and I want to know how this happens lol.
Hope the UFC retains a really good plastics guy, because Mitrione is looking at surgery out to wazoo.
They have solar panels out to wazoo and have conservation programs.

These folks apparently think that Wazoo is some eponymously far-out place, which makes as much sense as anything.

I'll close with a serendipitous discovery.

The OED's earliest citation for wazoo is from 1961. I'm sure that it's older than that, but my attempt to antedate the citation fetched mostly OCR errors, one of which connected me with the middle of The American Magazine for August, 1919, and this bizarre advertisement:

[Larger-format text here.]

Somehow this reminds me of Bruce Sterling's equally bizarre Pirate Utopia. In a world where advertisements like this one could be written and published, Franco Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto was not all that much further towards Wazoo.

Or maybe there were some fugitive Futurists working for R.J. Reynolds' ad agency in 1919?

 



46 Comments »

  1. AG said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    That ad is incredible. "Mad Men" is an understatement. That's like something you'd get if a roomful of Wodehouses threw typewriters at each others' heads during a gas leak

  2. Cervantes said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 9:49 am

    Whence the phrasal eggcorns up to wazoo and out to wazoo

    Can't recall ever having encountered these.

  3. Ginger Yellow said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 9:56 am

    I'm not sure you'd want a Prince Albert up the wazoo.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 10:05 am

    No cancer warnings in that ad!

  5. Rube said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 10:24 am

    If you saw that ad today, you'd probably assume that it was a product of Google Translate.

  6. tsts said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 10:32 am

    Wow, I had no idea. I always assumed is was some (probably imaginary) river somewhere down South.

    Well, now I know. Wazoo — it ain't (just) a river in Arkansas.

  7. Bill Taylor said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 10:33 am

    What a find! (The eggcorns and the ad.) The exaggerated language of the ad's text and the slightly-caricature-like illustration make me wonder whether the creator was satirizing a well-known "type" or character of the era. Evidently a modern, up-to-date fellow, with the references to photography and – seemingly – automobiles ("smokemotor" and "breezing up the pike"). Is this the peppy, slangy speech of a traveling salesman or business manager in 1919? On the other hand, the clothing and the corncob pipe look more rural. A bumpkin trying to sound sophisticated? Fascinating!

  8. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 10:39 am

    Maybe it's from Fr oiseau, penis. Also shows up as zizi.

  9. Gwen Katz said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 10:53 am

    It occurs to me that the decrease in tobacco consumption is ruining a really good phone prank.

  10. speedwell said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 10:57 am

    @Gwen Katz:

    Also, the increase in body modification, specifically certain kinds of piercings.

  11. Cervantes said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 11:00 am

    No cancer warnings in that ad!

    Not only were there no cancer warnings, ads for tobacco products in those days often (asserted and) touted the health benefits of smoking.

  12. Cervantes said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 11:08 am

    Dan Lufkin:

    Maybe it's from Fr oiseau

    Well, that's what Gerald Cohen once argued.

  13. susan said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 12:07 pm

    People at the University of Washington certainly agree with up the wazoo, as U-Dub's chief in-state sports-ball rival is Washington State University or WSU or, as even WSU proudly proclaim themselves, Wazoo. Whoop!

  14. Q. Pheevr said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

    What I can't figure out is which word in that ad could plausibly have been OCRed as ‘wazoo’?

    [(myl) Actually it was apparently the sequence $2100 in an ad at the bottom of the previous page:


    ]

    It's also interesting to see how the fashion in nonce-word formation has changed since 1919; they went in for fully spelled-out compounds (smokemotor, smokethrottle, smokeappetite) where a 21st-century copywriter would almost certainly prefer blends. (Smotor would work pretty well; /smoʊkpətaɪt/ sounds okay but is awkward to spell; smottle seems a bit opaque.)

  15. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 12:34 pm

    This advertising style is a bit different, probably closer to standard English, but I was still reminded of it:

    Breakfast with Gerard Manley Hopkins

    "Delicious heart-of-the-corn, fresh-from-the-oven flakes are sparkled and spangled with sugar for a can't-be-resisted flavour." — Legend on a packet of breakfast cereal.

    Serious over my cereals I broke one breakfast my fast
    With something-to-read-searching retinas retained by print on a packet;
    Sprung rhythm sprang, and I found (the mind fact-mining at last)
    An influence Father-Hopkins-fathered on the copy-writing racket.

    Parenthesis-proud, bracket-bold, happiest with hyphens,
    The writers stagger intoxicated by terms, adjective-unsteadied—
    Describing in graceless phrases fizzling like soda siphons
    All things, crisp, crunchy, malted, tangy, sugared and shredded.

    Far too, yes, too early we are urged to be purged, to savour
    Salt, malt, and phosphates in English twisted and torn,
    As, sparkled and spangled with sugar for a can't-be-resisted flavour,
    Come fresh-from-the-oven flakes direct from the heart of the corn.

    Anthony Brode

  16. wtsparrow said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

    Google "Walter Wazo" … wazo (oiseau), not wazoo. You'll find Dannie Abse's poem "The French Master," about a French teacher named Walter Bird. This may not explain wazoo, but you'll enjoy the poem.

  17. Gregory Kusnick said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

    Probably a coincidence, but a few of those "up to wazoo" examples could, at a stretch, be plausibly read as "up to my ass".

  18. David Morris said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 2:37 pm

    If Wazoo is 'some eponymously far-out place', wouldn't people spell it with an upper case letter (at least some/most of the time)?

  19. BZ said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 2:38 pm

    I've heard "up the wazoo" (and only in that form, not any other) many times without ever wondering what a "wazoo" was. Interesting.

  20. John Cowan said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 3:02 pm

    Or as Bored of the Rings rendered Tolkien's lyric "A Elbereth Gilthoniel":

    Grundig blaupunkt luger frug
    Watusi snarf wazoo!
    Nixon dirksen nasahist
    Rebozo boogaloo.

  21. Breffni said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 3:14 pm

    In fact, "wazoo" is a part of the anatomy of extraterrestrial lobsters, per Futurama.

    Fry: I just came to tell you Zoidberg is great. He's got male jelly coming out the wazoo.
    Edna: Well that is where it comes out.

  22. maidhc said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

    There's a phony Oriental title Grand Wazoo. I haven't found an earlier reference than the 1972 album by Frank Zappa. However it seems to me that the album title came from an existing phrase. I have a vague recollection of it being used in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

    There is a Yazoo river and county in Mississippi:
    http://visityazoo.org/

    It has appeared in song back to the early 20th century at least:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4W3o0OjNHo

    It's easy to rhyme, for one thing.

    Despite it being a river, I've never really heard anyone say "up the Yazoo", except in the most prosaic of statements:

    THE SIEGE OF VICKSBURG.; Heavy Cannonading Heard up the Yazoo. The Fight at Milliken's Bend on Saturday.
    Published: June 13, 1863

    CAIRO, Friday, June 12.

    The steamer St. Cloud, from Vicksburgh Monday morning, has arrived.

    There was heavy cannonading up the Yazoo when the boat left, the import of which is not known.

    –New York Times

    There's also an Australian saying "not worth a brass razoo" or "cold enough to freeze the knob off a brass razoo".

  23. Marina McIntire said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

    Takes me back to an old camp song, which went something like this:
    How is your mother?
    How is your father?
    How is your sister Sue?
    And while we're on the
    subject of it,
    How is your old wazoo?

    Surely I'm not the only one here who sang that!

  24. Roscoe said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 4:02 pm

    I was a bit surprised to hear a character in Disney's "Home on the Range" boast "I got cattle out the ol' wazoo!"

  25. Xtifr said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 4:25 pm

    I'd always thought "wazoo" was more of a generic nonsense term, like doodad or thingummie. Frank Zappa, in addition to naming an album The Grand Wazoo, has a lyric about a snake-oil product from a new-agey huckster which includes in its ingredients "the oil of Aphrodite and the dust of the Grand Wazoo". With my new knowledge, that lyric becomes slightly creepier. :)

  26. Stagamancer said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

    Can we discount the possibility they've simply misspelled "Wazzu" a common nickname for Washington State University, located in Pullman, WA, which is rather distance from any major city (all the way "out to Wazzu")?

  27. Brett said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 7:53 pm

    @Stagamancer: There is (or used to be) plenty of Washington State insignia merchandise that spelled it "WAZOO."

  28. Catherine Arnott Smith said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 11:08 pm

    That ad is purest Babbittry, except that the poet Chum Frink, in Babbitt, had to wait until 1922.

  29. Q. Pheevr said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 11:33 pm

    @myl – Thanks for the clarification on the OCR! (I guess you really had to have money up the wazoo to afford a record player in those days.)

    [(myl) A Grafanola, anyhow — even the standard model is about the price of a new car…]

  30. PickeringPast said,

    January 10, 2017 @ 11:49 pm

    There's always this from Firesign Theater:

    I can tell by the pie on your tie
    you're an American, well so am I!
    Hi bub, How are ya? How do ya' do?
    And while we're on the subject…
    And while we're on the subject…
    (And while we're on the subject)
    How's your old Wazoo ?!

  31. microtherion said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 12:12 am

    The discussion of ads and "wazoo" reminded me of an old eTrade Superbowl ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imZypqiuPHU

  32. Porlock Junior said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 2:30 am

    Anecdotally, I might mention that I first encountered wazoo about the same time the OED did, 1961. This was, to be sure, when i was in college, a time when one encounters lots of out-of-the-way new vocabulary; but wazoo seems to have been less out of the way in later years, which would be consistent with that dating.

    But maidhc raises a couple of suggestive points. First, the phony Oriental title, Grand Wazoo, seemingly dated to maybe 1972. This calls to mind a citation rather before 1972 or even '61:

    "When the keeper of the royal zoo
    Was short a cockatoo or two,
    Who sealed him in a pot of glue?
    Was I Wazir? I was!"
    etc. From the musical Kismet (1953).

    Wazeer, pronounced wahzeer, is a fairly common variant of vizier, as in Grand Vizier. Grand Wazoo does not seem at all far-fetched a derivative. Might there be a connection through that popular arrangement of Borodin's Greatest Hits?

    Finally, as to Yazoo: I distinctly recall encountering many years ago (about 60 of them) a remark in (I believe) a Stephen Foster collection, to the effect that before he came up with Swanee, he wrote, and I am not making this up, Way down upon the Yazoo River. It sounded outlandishly wrong to me at the time, and it still does. But I don't see much likely connection to the wazoo.

  33. Duncan said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 2:42 am

    I've sometimes found myself amused by the name of the company that makes many of those concrete-and-pebble (now metal, etc, as well, but originally all concrete and pebble, I believe) outdoor furnishings (tables, garbage cans, ash trays, etc), Wausau Tile http://wausautile.com/ . Of course it takes its name from its town of origin, Wausau, WI, but every time I see one of their garbage containers, perhaps outside a restaurant or in a park, overflowing, I get new appreciation for "out the wazoo."

    (Which BTW is the only wazoo phrase I was aware of until now, and yes, I knew of the anal reference.)

    Tho I doubt Wausau residents pronounce it the same (see pronunciation I just googled, here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk7YHIa2i-o ), but it's close enough as spelled for me to find it amusing, anyway.

    I wonder if a perhaps deliberate mispronunciation of that is connected in any way? A google returns the official city history, here: http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Home/AboutWausau/HistoryofWausau.aspx, which says it was organized as a town in 1852 and incorporated as a vilage in 1861, with a city charter in 1872. "In 1874, the arrival of the railroad made it easier for people to get to Wausau." I can easily see talk of the "railroad to Wausau" morphing into the wazoo references we have today, particularly if there were a sports rivalry or some similar motivation to form a negative association and use that in various word play.

    So maybe see if there's earlier plausibly related "out to wausau" references that could have morphed into wazoo references around the middle of the 20th century?

  34. Jonathan Smith said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 3:35 am

    But it seems doubtful that wazoo first meant ass. Because who says or said, she has money up the ass, or out the ass, etc., or any variant thereon? Or any wazoo phrase except for up/out the wazoo (I'm suspicious of "pain in the wazoo.") So it makes more sense to suppose that out to Wazoo, up to Wazoo, where Wazoo = far off place, was earlier. Maybe.

    [(myl) I agree that the idioms don't make a lot of compositional sense, but they're definitely Out There. From Google Books:

    Gold out the ass, man. Gold everywhere.
    I know she paid out the ass but—Damn!
    … because his nephew was having weed out the ass.
    I'ma be her agent and get her endorsements out the ass.
    He could do it; he'd pay out the ass, but he could do it.
    They had stripes on their shoulders and tenure out the ass.
    One with witnesses out the ass, but we've never found Harold Gaynor's body.

    Politically speaking, you have as much place in this office as a threeyearold has in a gun shop, but you have character up the ass.
    You got money up the ass. Why take the job?
    Ollie, we've got staff people up the ass.
    It was early summer and we had work up the ass
    He's a lazy good-for-nothing with bribes up the ass.
    These cards are all insured up the ass so Bon Voyage didn't lose a damn dime
    Keep it tight, Fred, we got copy up the ass.
    I have money up the ass. It isn't good for anything after a certain point.
    You can bet he'll have alibis up the ass.
    the dryer hose vent is busted and there's lint up the ass, a time bomb for spontaneous combustion
    She's got cats up the ass. The place smells like . . .

    etc.]

  35. GeoX said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 4:56 am

    Well…

  36. maidhc said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 5:25 am

    Marina McIntire:
    I never sang that, but it's an interesting example.
    PickeringPast:
    Good catch.

  37. ajay said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 6:21 am

    Unrelated, but I feel this bit of erroneous attribution would entertain you. It's talking about Adam Smith:

    “He was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland on June 5, 1723 and he died on July 17, 1790, at the age of 67. His father died two months after he was born, and was raised by his mother, with whom he remained close throughout her life.”

    The phrase "Kirkcaldy Voodoo" is probably a lot funnier if you've ever been to Kirkcaldy, but still.

  38. Rodger C said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 7:45 am

    @JC: I believe that was Bored of the Rings' version of the Ring inscription.

    The ad is obviously an attempt to write in the language of the young and hip (to use an anachronism), but I wonder if it's anywhere accurate, or if a young person at the time would have laughed at it the way my generation laughed over ads ~1969-72 written in attempts at our language?

    [(myl) I'm not sure that's right — the accompanying drawing shows an elderly guy, and there's a whole series of these ads, all of which seem to show middle-aged to older men. Here's another sample, from 1921:

    ]

  39. Andreas Johansson said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 7:52 am

    Xtifr wrote:

    I'd always thought "wazoo" was more of a generic nonsense term, like doodad or thingummie.

    Me too. Also, I thought the expression was "out of the wazoo".

  40. Q. Pheevr said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 10:25 am

    @Duncan – I always thought Wausau was a Scottish dynastic name, though the only individual monarch of that line I'm familiar with is, of course, the famous Wausau XLII.

  41. Marja Erwin said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 11:57 am

    I've never encountered "pain in the wazoo," but I thought "up the Wazoo" referred to a proverbial river.

  42. Gwen Katz said,

    January 11, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

    Because who says or said, she has money up the ass, or out the ass, etc., or any variant thereon?

    While I haven't heard "up the ass" particularly, there are a fair number of ass-related formations meaning "a lot:" an assload, a buttload, a shit-ton, etc, as well as "big-ass" and its variants.

  43. Gabe Burns said,

    January 12, 2017 @ 11:04 am

    I find it interesting how eggcorns like this can in turn affect usage. Someone aware of the "correct" version would never say something like "turn your A/v receiver up the wazoo", but "up to wazoo" is reminiscent of "up to eleven" and sounds consistent with increasing a setting to an extreme high level, and thus gets used in this context.

  44. Xtifr said,

    January 13, 2017 @ 9:09 pm

    @Gwen Katz: Many people claim that "buttload" derives from the unit of measure, equal to two hogsheads. I'm a bit skeptical of the claim myself. I think it may have once been used that way, but I suspect the modern version is independent parallel evolution, rather than a carryover of the older term. But I haven't done the research, so that's purely a wild-wazoo'd guess on my part. :)

  45. Worst Performance Of Your Career | Chamblee54 said,

    January 16, 2017 @ 12:30 am

    […] any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House. ~ wazoo ~ WaPo Issues Major ‘Editor’s Note’ to Clear up Report Claiming Russians Hacked US Power Grid […]

  46. MWarhol said,

    January 17, 2017 @ 4:19 pm

    Some years ago I was driving on a highway in North Carolina and saw a billboard for a retail business advertising "linens up the wazoo". I can't imagine why they thought that would be a selling point. I will always regret not having taken a photo of it.

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