throw a wobbly

Discuss word origins and meanings.

throw a wobbly

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Jul 03, 2008 3:47 pm

On the Google News website I read the following:
<2008 “Zimbabwe: Mugabe Throws a Wobbly At AU Summit: On Monday the world caught a glimpse of the pressure that Robert Mugabe is under, as global condemnation intensifies in the wake of his sham election. Mugabe went on a tirade calling a journalist a ‘bloody idiot’ when he was waylaid by reporters at the African Union Summit in Egypt on Monday. The drama happened when a journalist from the UK ITV news channel asked him on what basis he thought he was President of Zimbabwe. Mugabe responded angrily saying it was on the same basis that Gordon Brown is ‘Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.’ It is not clear if he forgot which country is his and which country is Brown's. He sounded muddled and angry at being questioned by the journalist.”— SW Radio Africa (London),1 July> [[during African Union Summit in Egypt on, Monday, 30 June]].
I had never heard the expression THROW A WOBBLY. But that, as I learned, was probably because it is not used much, if at all, in these parts. It’s a U.K. and British Commonwealth expression, as far as I can make out.

THEFREEDICTIONAY.COM

THROW A WOBBLER/WOBBLY (British & Australian, informal: To suddenly become very angry. She saw Peter talking to an attractive blonde and threw a wobbly. [[New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English claims New Zealand is the country of origin]]
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OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

WOBBLER noun [1942]: = WOBBLY. Frequently in the phrase To throw a wobbler.

WOBBLY noun colloquial [from the adjective]

TO THROW A WOBBLY [1977]: To lose one's self-control in a fit of nerves, panic, temperament, annoyance, or the like; also, to act in an unexpected way, causing surprise or consternation.
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CASSELL’S DICTIONARY OF SLANG

THROW A WOBBLY (also THROW A WOBBLER, CHUCK A . . . , DO A . . .) verb [1970s and still in use]: Of people, to panic, to suffer a fit of nerves; also used figuratively of things. [Standard English throw + slang wobbly]

WOBBLY (also WOBBLER) [1930s and still in use]: A fit of nerves, of panic, of bad temper [[anger]]; thus one who has such attacks.
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BREWER’S DICTIONARY OF MODERN PHRASE & FABLE

THROW A WOBBLY: To display a fit of temper; to panic. The latter word relates to the person’s uncontrolled deviation from the norm. The expression dates from the 1960s.
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SHORTER SLANG DICTIONARY: FROM THE WORK OF ERIC PARTRIDGE:

THROW A WOBBLY: To become angry, agitated or mentally unbalanced; to behave irrationally or unpredictably. Later 20th century.
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20TH CENTURY WORDS by John Ayto

WOBBLY noun (1977): A sudden fit of temperament or uncontrollable anger. Slang; mainly in the phrase throw a wobbly. Probably a variation on the earlier wobbler, first recorded in 1942 [[see quote below]]—the underlying idea being the uncontrollable shaking of someone having a fit.
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Some synonyms for THROW A WOBBLY that come to mind, but which are not listed in the sources above, include BLOW A FUSE, BLOW A GASKET, BLOW ONE'S STACK, BLOW ONE'S TOP, FLY OFF THE HANDLE, GO THROUGH THE ROOF, HAVE A CONNIPTION, HAVE A HISSY FIT, and HAVE A TANTRUM.
<1942 Fit, especially a feigned one. . . Brody, . . . WOBBLER.”—American Thesaurus of Slang by Berrey & Van Den Bark, §130/11>

<1977 “The world has used him, exploited his talent and brains and then discarded him . . . is it any wonder that he THROWS A WOBBLY?”—Telegraph (Brisbane, Australia), 13 April, page 13/2>

<1978 “Not only did she THROW A WOBBLY at the slightest murmur of tango rhythms, even the sight of a piano-accordion brought her out in hives.”—Take My Word for It by D. Norden, page 59>

<1981 “The debriefing . . . seemed to take an inordinately long time... ‘By lunch,’ he [sc. Simeon Harris] says, ‘I was getting a bit fed up, so I THREW A WOBBLY.’”—Radio Times, 22-28 August, page 6/4>

<1982 “If the men heard my name called on the public address system all kinds of stories would go round. They'd say ‘Someone's THROWN A WOBBLY again.’”—The Guardian (U.K.), 30 October>

<1984 “WOBBLY: A fit of anger—A Personal Kiwi-Yankee Dictionary by L S. Leland, page 304>

<1985 “Vikki said the camera shots were all wrong, her manager objected to ‘the thin sound’, and the backing group . . . THREW A complete WOBBLER.”—Sunday Times (London), 5 May, page 7/2>

<1987 “When Susannah was 15 Leslie THREW the biggest WOBBLY of all. She uprooted the family from Kent . . . and went to farthest Pembrokeshire.”—Daily Telegraph (U.K.), 28 January, page 13/4>

<1988 “She just rooly CHUCKED A WOBBLY last night.”—My Diary by Kylie Mole (Maryanne Fahey), page 103>

<1989 “Mum THROWS A WOBBLER with three weeks to go. If anyone buys her slippers, a scarf or perfume again this year, she's on the first plane out with the milkman.”—Looks, December, page 53/1>

<1995 “Thing is Cools, he’ll really CHUCK A WOBBLY if he thinks I’ve shafted him.”—The Search for Savage Henry by Harrison Biscuit, page 69>

<1998 “Uh oh, I thought, she’s gunna CRACK A WOBBLY. Mum didn’t often CRACK A WOBBLY, but when she did, it was a very wobbly WOBBLY.”—Deadly Una? by Phillip Gwynne, page 81>

<2003 “If the food isn't up to scratch he'll THROW A WOBBLY, I suspect there are a lot of other things that could make him ratty.”—Sunday Mirror (London), 27 April>

<2005 “. . . a grown-up man, not one who thinks he can shirk his responsibilities and THROW A WOBBLY when he doesn't have a clean shirt.”—The Mirror (London), 9 September>

<2007 “But here are some other words and phrases we picked up while visiting the United Kingdom. To ‘THROW A WOBBLY’”: To throw a fit or become cross.”—Joplin Globe (Missouri), 21 March>

<2008 “AUSTRALIAN air travellers want crying babies and their parents to be segregated on overseas flights, a new survey shows: My son is the light of my life, but definitely has his moments! It's bad enough when he decides to THROW A WOBBLY or exercise his vocal cords to the highest pitch, . . .”—CourierMail.com.au (Sidney, Australia), 20 February>
(quotes from Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources)
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Ken G – July 3, 2008
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Jul 03, 2008 4:12 pm

Throwing a wobbly has an element of petulance about it. To quote a delightfully mixed metaphor, “He threw a wobbly, and chucked his toys out of the pram”.

I thought it might be an obscure cricketing term, as are a number of these little gems that reside only in the UK and Australia, but it doesn’t seem to be. That doesn’t stop it being an excellent little phrase though. Very useful and almost onomatopoeic.
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by trolley » Thu Jul 03, 2008 4:44 pm

I like it. It seems a lot more poetic than the usual hissys, tantrums, and fits that are often thrown in my neck of the woods. It might cause some confusion around here, though. "Wobbly" is a slang term for beer (short for a wobbly-pop). It would have to be a serious wobbly to make me waste a good wobbly.
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by PhilHunt » Thu Jul 03, 2008 6:27 pm

I agree with Bob that 'to throw a wobbly' is more petulant than 'to blow ones fuse' or 'fly off the handle' which is generally going into a rage rather than a hissy fit.

Bob suggested it might be a cricketing term, or perhaps it's more sinister..
Wobbly
1914, member of Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.). Probably some sort of elaboration of the W aspect of the acronym.
to throw a member of the industrial workers of the world a yard or two.... ;)

More seriously, the etymology of the word 'wobble' might help with the meaning.
wobble (v.)
1657, probably from Low Ger. wabbeln "to wobble;" cognate with O.N. vafla "hover about, totter," related to vafra "move unsteadily," from P.Gmc. *wab- "to move back and forth" (see waver). The noun is attested from 1699.
I think it literally means that the persons deviation from a normal state. Ie: to wobble. In fact, you often hear of tennis players having a 'wobble' mid-game; losing concentration momentarily.

I have seen the phrase used in Australian and New Zealand writing. I've also seen the word 'wobbly' attested to 1884: http://books.google.com/books?id=mAdUqL ... hUKRbYSjqQ
and another source says 1970 as a noun: http://books.google.com/books?id=D37Cd3 ... 5Jdp1w-4ow

There appears to also be a German term for this: einen Koller haben. perhaps PhilWhite can help with the translation. This would make sense seeing as wooble has a Lower German origin.

I can only find a date of 'Late 20th Century' for the term 'throw a wobbly' which makes me think it isn't a cricketing term because most of the termonolgy was created very early on for cricket. For example, 'to be bowled over' dates from the Mid-1800s, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms: http://books.google.com/books?id=9re1vf ... EHfoJOrCjg
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Jul 03, 2008 9:06 pm

Phil Hunt wrote:I've also seen the word 'wobbly' attested to 1884: . . . and another source says 1970 as a noun: . . .
Phil H., Just a bit of clarification. Your first link to The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English says that the adjective WOBBLY meaning “uncertain; undecided; risky” appeared in 1884. The Oxford English Dictionary has examples of the Standard English adjective WOBBLY, meaning inclined to ‘wobble,’ dating back to the 1850s as WABBLY and to 1871 as WOBBLY.

It should also be noted that your Chambers link doesn’t say that the noun WOBBLY dates from 1970, but from the 1970s. And, in fact, more precisely, its first appearance in print as a noun meaning ‘a fit of anger,’ etc. dates from 1977 in the phrase THROWS A WOBBLY as in my quote above and as Eric Partridge’s dictionary states on the page previous to the one in your above link.

I’m reproducing the listing from the CHAMBERS 21ST CENTURY DICTIONARY here because it’s pretty good and to help readers avoid the eyestrain of trying to read the blurry link:

WOBBLYadjective (wobblier, wobbliest) unsteady; shaky; inclined to wobble. ►noun (wobblies) colloquial a fit of anger; a tantrum. • wobbliness noun. • throw a wobbly colloquial to have a tantrum; to rage. 1970s as a noun.
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by PhilHunt » Mon Jul 07, 2008 10:38 am

Thanks Ken for cleaning up my sloppy research.
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by tony h » Sun Jul 20, 2008 12:31 am

Some synonyms for THROW A WOBBLY that come to mind, but which are not listed in the sources above, include BLOW A FUSE, BLOW A GASKET, BLOW ONE'S STACK, BLOW ONE'S TOP, FLY OFF THE HANDLE, GO THROUGH THE ROOF, HAVE A CONNIPTION, HAVE A HISSY FIT, and HAVE A TANTRUM.
I was puzzling over this. I had already concluded that I would not accept any of the above as synonyms. But I was not sure why.

I am of the opinion that "throwing a wobbly" is generally something that other people do. It is much more an observed state than a personal condition. Although hindsight can give the same perspective. It is a condition that, in the observer, generally causes some wry amusment at the loss of control. It is a description of a socially inappropriate response, mostly of a response that shows weakness of character.

PS. I am not fully convinced I have got to the nub of the matter. I might have another try another day.
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by Phil White » Mon Jul 21, 2008 10:20 am

PhilHunt wrote:There appears to also be a German term for this: einen Koller haben. perhaps PhilWhite can help with the translation. This would make sense seeing as wooble has a Lower German origin.
I have to say, I'd never seen it written, and the spelling surprised me. It appears to have been spelled that way both before and after the spelling reform. It means simply a rage, rather than a tantrum or "wobbly" and comes from "cholerisch" (choleric). A choleric person is a "Choleriker", spelled the way I would expect.

Nothing to do with wobbling.
tony h wrote:I had already concluded that I would not accept any of the above as synonyms. But I was not sure why.
Yes, there's something about it that suggests lack of a sense of perspective rather than mere petulance or justified fury. "Completely lost it" gets very close.

Idioms of the "blow a gasket/fuse" or "fly off the handle" variety suggest the violence and suddenness of the rage. Hissy fits and tantrums are petulant.

Throwing a wobbly is the entirely unwarranted reaction your mother has when you do something completely harmless and innocent like throwing the neighbour's cat (or the neighbour's son) into the fish pond.

Are you listening, mother?
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Jul 22, 2008 5:34 am

Tony and Phil W., Thanks for the fine points on THROW A WOBBLY. I had no real feel for the expression and the synonyms I threw out were just ones that came to mind when I tried to match up some phrases I was familiar with. I also notice now that the word panic provided by both Cassell's, Brewer's, and the OED really doesn't jibe with any of my guessed synonyms, but is not too far away from the suggested ‘completely losing it.’
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by tony h » Tue Jul 22, 2008 5:44 pm

Phil's got that right with "completly lost it".

My Dad did after I asked if I could borrow the car. I took the Jag rather than the mini. I don't know what he expected me to do; the mini didn't have any petrol in it and I didn't have any money.
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Jul 22, 2008 5:46 pm

And who can pull in a Mini anyway?
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by Phil White » Tue Jul 22, 2008 6:23 pm

Another one that lines up somewhere between "blow one's top" and "throw a wobbly" is the relatively recent "go ballistic".

I'm not quite sure why I would not place it exactly with the other "explosive" images, but in modern teenage language, it seems to me to be closer to "throw a wobbly" than to "fly off the handle" or "blow one's top".

Quite possibly, it's the context of the delivery that gives me that impression. "Go ballistic" is almost exclusively teenage slang, and is frequently, probably usually, used of teachers or parents. Perhaps it boils down to something like this:
"Throw a wobbly" and "go ballistic" are both used on occasions when a figure of authority becomes extremely angry about something which the speaker/perpetrator finds (or claims to find) harmless or amusing, and the phrase itself indicates that the speaker also found the display of anger amusing (possibly only retrospectively, though).
Perhaps I've pushed the interpretation too far though.

I would add that "throw a wobbly" sounds decidedly dated to me now. It was used by my generation when we were kids, but I suspect it is going the way of "have a benny" (a UK phrase of similar vintage and meaning to "throw a wobbly").
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by trolley » Tue Jul 22, 2008 6:56 pm

Throwing a wobbly seems a little harmless (and humorous). Somehow I have this image of child lying on his back in the middle of the mall kicking and screaming. Going ballistic sounds a decidedly more dangerous, as is going "postal". Someone is going to get hurt.
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by Phil White » Tue Jul 22, 2008 7:04 pm

trolley wrote:Throwing a wobbly seems a little harmless (and humorous). Somehow I have this image of child lying on his back in the middle of the mall kicking and screaming. Going ballistic sounds a decidedly more dangerous, as is going "postal". Someone is going to get hurt.
I wouldn't say so in the UK. Although one of Ken's quotes refers to a child, it seems an odd usage to me (perhaps Australian usage is a little different).
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Re: throw a wobbly

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Jul 23, 2008 11:03 am

A wobbly isn't so much harmless as capricious.
Replace child with Naomi Campbell and you get more of an idea.....she can definitely be dangerous.

(I'm learning)
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