Hopey changey… or changing?

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Via Talking Points Memo comes this correction from the Los Angeles Times:

Sarah Palin: In some editions of Sunday's Section A, an article about Sarah Palin's speech to the National Tea Party Convention quoted her as saying, "How's that hopey, changing stuff working out for you?" She said, "How's that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?"

Maybe the L.A. Times editors could have spared themselves some confusion by paying more attention to the American Dialect Society voting for Word of the Year. For 2008, I included hopey changey in my list of nominations, defining it as follows:

hopey changey: Derisive epithet incorporating Obama’s two main buzzwords (also dopey hopey changey).

In the '08 WOTY voting, hopey changey (hyphenated as hopey-changey) ended up in a special category of election-related terms, finishing a distant third behind maverick and lipstick on a pig (but ahead of hockey mom).

We've discussed the gregarious -y suffix here a number of times, for instance in my posts "Feeling all Olympic-y" and "Slang affixation: it's all mystery-y-ish-y." Both posts cite the signal work of Michael Adams on the -y suffix in his books Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon (2004) and Slang: The People's Poetry (2009). Beyond linguisticky circles, Adams is perhaps best known for his pseudo-feud with Stephen Colbert a few years ago, after truthiness was selected as ADS WOTY for 2005. In an AP report, Adams summed up Colbert's buzzword as "truthy, not facty" (in true Buffy style). But since the AP somehow neglected to mention "The Colbert Report" in its coverage of the vote, that gave the eternally put-upon Mr. Colbert license to put Adams on his "On Notice" board (where, as far as I know, he remains to this day).

(And speaking of media errors, recall that the New York Times originally had trouble with Colbert's truthiness, first rendering it as trustiness in Alessandra Stanley's review. That, it turned out, was a cupertino.)

As for A-y B-y formulations in general, there's a big class of reduplicated compounds like airy-fairy, art(s)y-fart(s)y, fuddy-duddy, hanky-panky, hoity-toity, hurly-burly, itsy-bitsy, loosey-goosey, namby-pamby, okey-dokey, roly-poly, teeny-weeny, willy-nilly and wishy-washy. Others, like hopey changey, only reduplicate the -y element, like hunky-dory, topsy-turvy, and upsy-daisy. Perhaps most germane here are A-y B-y compounds that more transparently reflect a combination of the A and B bases, like artsy-craftsy, creepy-crawly, and touchy-feely. Many of these are disparaging, and I'd imagine touchy-feely in particular serves as a model for Palin and other opponents of Obama's hopey-changiness (but not his changingness).

(See Zazzle and Cafepress for a rapidly growing selection of hopey changey products.)


  1. Richard Howland-Bolton said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

    I just came over all proofy-readery and noticed you left the first 'y' out of arty-farty

    [(bgz) Oopsy-daisy. Fixed.]

  2. mollymooly said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

    It seems -y is the dismissive of Republicaners while Democraty types favor -er.

    [(bgz) As Geoff Nunberg has pointed out, GOP dismissiveness also often takes the form of object+present participle compounds, as in the subtitle to Geoff's book, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.]

  3. mollymooly said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    This thread's obligatory Simpsons references are "knifey-spoony" and "shooty-stealy".

  4. peter said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

    He was an airy-fairy, arty-farty, fuddy-duddy playing hanky-panky while acting hoity-toity and engaging in hurly-burly with an itsy-bitsy woman on the side. Oh, she might have seemed loosey-goosey or namby-pamby, but in fact she was okey-dokey with his roly-poly features, despite his teeny-weeny appetite and his willy-nilly manner. Yes, she was quite hunky-dory with all those topsy-turvy plans, the upsy-daisy business ventures, the artsy-craftsy weekends, the creepy-crawly pets, and – my goodness! – those touchy-feely moods he used to swing.

  5. fev said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

    (One, two, three, four: Tell the people what he wore)

  6. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

    Interesting(-y); I've always heard and used artsy-fartsy.

    [(bgz) Come to think of it, so do I. American dictionaries tend to list it first (with arty-farty as a variant), and Cambridge labels it US usage. But the OED's first cite for arty-farty is from the US too.]

  7. Fetcher said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    Whoa…I read this article, then hoped over to LA Times to do their crossword (it's actually Tuesday's, I'm a couple of days behind).
    10 across: ________-daisy (which would lead one to believe the answer is upsy), answer: "upsa"
    I've never heard upsa-daisy. Is this a west coast thing (you know, LA Times crossword and all)?

  8. Fetcher said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    Perhaps I am the fool…google is a useful thing. Heh. ups-a-daisy…so upsy-daisy is a corruption. Think (read: google) before you type, eh?

  9. Spell Me Jeff said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

    So how's that whole sent-my-son-to-Afghanistan-to-protect-freedoms-that-weren't-even-threatened thing working out for ya?

  10. George Amis said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    I'm pretty sure that when I was a child in Virginia (early 1940's), the form used by my grandparents was upsadaisy.

    And Fletcher– OED doesn't agree with Google on this, but of course Google might be right, and at least one of the citations is much more circumstantial than OED.

    (It may be impolitic to ask, but what are we to make of Mollymooly?)

  11. Barbara Partee said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

    I went googling to look for the form I remember from my Baltimore childhood, oops-a-daisy, and this site – http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/ups-a-daisy.html – suggests it's in fact the most common spelling and pronunciation. And my intuition, for what it's worth, is that "oops-a-daisy" is more for when a child has fallen down, maybe in connection with picking them back up, and that "ups-a-daisy" is more for lifting a child high in the air for fun. But I'm not sure of any of that.

  12. Amy Stoller said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    I always heard and said upsy-daisy. But I remember reading whoops-a-daisy as well.

    @fev: You beat me to it.

    Is the spider who climbed up the water spout itsy-bitsy, eensy-beensy, or eensy-weensy? Inquiring minds want to know.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

    @Amy Stoller: Also teensy-weensy (which can be spelled with "c"s) and my favorite, "inky-dinky", the first element referring to the color.

  14. Chargone said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

    as i remember it, the spider was 'insy-wincey', but your mileage may vary.

  15. Roger Lustig said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

    Wartime Britain was enriched (?!) by a song called "Hands, knees and bumps-a-daisy"–evidently, with a dance to go with. Oopsy, upsy and other such versions pale…

  16. Nathan Myers said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

    Of course "whoopsy-daisy" is the definitive form, with the rest mere corrupt shadows. But the Swedes seem to insist on "ops" for "oops". I wonder how widespread this "oops/ops/gulp" expression is, and whether it arises (and re-arises) as naturally and spontaneously as "mama".

  17. Ben said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 4:01 am

    I could have sworn the spider was eensy-weensy, but google disagrees in a big way:

    "incy wincy spider went up the" — 40,400 ghits
    "eensy weensy spider went up the" — 33,600 ghits
    "eency weency spider went up the" — 8,200 ghits
    total — 82,200 ghits
    "itsy bitsy spider went up the: — 414,000 ghits

    (other spellings variations that I tried were all less than 2k ghits)

    itst-bitsy wins more than 5:1 against all spellings of incy-wincy combined

  18. Ann Burlingham said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

    I learned "eensy-weensy" too, though I might have spelled it "eentsy-weentsy" myself.

    Is there any overlap with this -y stuff with the derogatory type of fake-Chinese "likee likee", or is that just my reading? I haven't heard "hopey, changey" said, yet, though many of the other examples are familiar. If that's a whole different ballpark, what ballpark is it?

  19. mollymooly said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

    I think "artsy-fartsy", "artsy-crafty", and "antsy" are all Americanisms, for which the respective Briticisms are "arty-farty", "arty" and nothing. I can't say this reflects a greater love of the "-sy" suffix, since "itty-bitty" sounds much more American to me than "itsy-bitsy" does.

  20. mollymooly said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 1:26 pm


  21. Neal Whitman said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    What struck me more about this quote was the "How's that X working out for you?" frame. In recent months, I've heard this question asked rhetorically and sarcastically a lot. It showed up in Lost last season, when Ben asked Jack how an obviously failed plan had worked out for him, and this season on Burn Notice, under similar circumstances. Of course, we LL readers know this may just be a case of simultaneous Frequency and Recency Illusions, so what do you think?

  22. Neal Whitman said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    I should have phrased the above more generally, to include "How did that * work out for you?"

  23. Nathan Myers said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

    One cannot discuss the "eensy-weensy" vs. "itsy-bitsy" matter without reference to Dave Barry's seminal work on the subject. Incidentally, I gather that the Swedes learn "imse-vimse". As I recall, Dr. Barry scoffed at this.

  24. Ann Burlingham said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

    "How's that working for you?" is a catchphrase of Dr. Phil.

  25. andrew c said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

    'hurly-burly with an itsy-bitsy woman'? Surely that would be 'rumpy-pumpy'.

  26. AlexTheSeal said,

    February 17, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

    My first encounter with "How's that working out for you?" was in Fight Club (1999).

    Brad Pitt: "I like that. That's clever."
    Edward Norton: "Thanks."
    BP: "How's that working out for you?"
    EN: "What?"
    BP: "Being clever."

    I have a strong gut feeling that, while this may not have been the first recorded usage of the phrase, it wasn't, before then, the ubiquitous part of the pop-culture lexicon that it is now.

  27. Fred said,

    February 18, 2010 @ 7:19 am

    If I had an itsy-bitsy woman to dance with, I'd consider the hootchy-kootchy before any others. Actually, we have hootchy-kootchy girls and those who dance the hootchy-kootchy; An adjective and a noun.

    I haven't noticed any antonyms in the y-y form for the adjectives in the list.

  28. koj said,

    February 22, 2010 @ 2:43 am

    the spider was definitely itsy-bitsy in early 1980s southern Ontario, or at least my part of it. (we had a variant with a second verse about the big, fat spider, which also, seemingly, ventured up the water-spout). And I went Up-sa-daisy or Whoop-sa-daisy, never upsy-daisy.

  29. Aaron Davies said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 7:57 pm

    wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey!

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