This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Nuts and Bolts: Wellerisms.

Sarcasm is supposed to be the lowest form of wit. But what about Wellerisms?

Wellerisms have been perpetrated from Ancient Sumerian times at least (the Ancient Sumerians were the ones who invented writing, so Wellerisms could have been about for millennia before that. But luckily we have no record of them).

So what's a Wellerism?

It's a sort of joke.

"We'll have to rehearse that," said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.

Re-hearse: geddit? Yes, it's awful. But even the philisopher Plato was unable entirely to resist the opportunity to cause pain in this way:

'The water will tell you,' said the guide, when the travellers asked him how deep the river was.
Presumably the gag works better in Greek.

Wellerisms can be found all over the place: they've been recorded in Holland, the Baltic, in Slav languages, as well as the African languages Yoruba and Chumburung. 
"Ruff," said the dog, as it sat on the cactus.

There. I think I've inflicted enough pain for one day, so I'll stop, there. It's interesting, though, isn't it?

"Simply remarkable," said the teacher when asked his opinion about the new whiteboard.


Nuts and Bolts: Wellerisms. Wellerisms are named after Sam Weller, a character in Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers (1836-7) who was always saying things like: 'Out with it, as the father said to the child when he swallowed a farden [farthing]'.


  1. So that's what they're called.
    They're fun, but I think after a few they'd become groan-worthy!
    Why can't I think of a good one to sign off with! :)

    1. If I were you I'd put it down to sheer good taste.

  2. Sheer good taste is the serving of lamb at dinner.


  3. Hello
    I have made a little study of the literature relating Wellerisms (I’ll say why in a minute), and yes, you’re right, they are ancient. The earliest one in England is possibly from an account of the death of King Oswald at the 7th century Battle of Maserfield, (“God have mercy on their souls,” said Oswald, as he fell to the earth.) But Wellerisms really took off as a result of the massive success of The Pickwick Papers, where they were uttered with a style of their own, partly as a result of the London dialect in which Sam Weller spoke, in which the letters “V” and “W” were swapped – “Vel, that’s werry good” – and partly because of their black-comedy content, which often related to death. (Even the example you quote, about swallowing a farthing, suggests that the child may choke to death.)
    I feature Wellerisms, and explore their re-emergence in early nineteenth-century London, in my forthcoming novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which tells the story of the origins and subsequent history of The Pickwick Papers. If anyone (or anyVUN) is interested, further information about my novel can be found on my website

    1. Thanks, Stephen, that's really interesting. The humour in Dickens is certainly often liquorice-black.
      The very best possible luck with your book!