Today’s morning name. Briefly, from NOAD:

noun wazooUS informal the anus. PHRASES up (or outthe wazoo US informal very much; in great quantity; to a great degree: he’s insured out the wazoo | Jack and I have got work up the wazoo already. ORIGIN 1960s: of unknown origin.

The phrases are straightforwardly idioms — the fact that they are degree adverbials is unpredictable from the meanings of the parts — though they can be varied a bit: by extension with the modifying adjective old (up/out the old/ol’ wazoo), or the with the noun ass ‘asshole’ instead of wazoo (to have problems up/out the ass); it’s likely that wazoo in these phrases is, historically, an ornamental replacement for ass in them (see below).

But wazoo, on its own, has no parts, so it can’t literally be an idiom. However, it’s restricted in its collocations — formally non-compositional, if not semantically non-compositional.

In most of its occurrences, wazoo has the determiner the (occasionally a possessive determiner instead), and it’s far from having the full syntax of ass ‘anus, asshole’. In particular, as far as I can tell, wazoo doesn’t occur at all as the first element of compounds in the place of ass ‘anus, asshole’, as in ass balm ‘soothing medication for the anus’ (but not wazoo balm); ass-licker ‘someone who (literally or figuratively) licks assholes’ (but not wazoo-licker); and so on. Nor is it used as a bare noun parallel to ass in eat/lick/munch/… ass (no eat wazoo). Nor does it have a plural, though ass ‘anus, asshole’ does (no wazoos). There’s more, but  this should suffice to make the point.

As it happens, I’ve looked at wazoo on this blog before. And that coverage can be improved by revisions of the OED.

Previously on this blog, in the 8/28/15 posting “Robots up the wazoo”:

On the noun wazoo, from NOAD2 [above]

… This is essentially the content of the OED3 (March 2006) entry, though there’s a bit more in the OED, which notes that wazoo is used

Freq. as a (euphemistic) substitute for ass in fig. phrases, as pain in the wazoo, etc.

and gives as its earliest cite in the sense ‘… the anus’:

1961 Calif. Pelican (Univ. Calif., Berkeley) May (back cover) Run it up yer ol’ wazoo!

and as its earliest cite in up (also outthe wazoo:

1981 Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald-Jrnl. 5 Jan. d8/3 There comes a time in performing when you just do it. You can have theory up the wazoo.

I would have thought that wazoo in up the wazoo was just another euphemistic substitute for ass — in up the ass ‘in great quantity’, which certainly occurs now. And probably it is; the difficulty is that the OED‘s entry for ass is mostly antique and lacks this use. NOAD2, which also lacks up (or outthe ass, merely mirrors the OED in this respect.


— on the 1961 Calif. Pelican cite: its sense is literal (referring to an actual anus); it has possessed wazoo; it has the extension with ol’; and it occurs with up. Lots going on there.

— later cites from OED3: 1971 in the wazoo [with literal ‘ass’]; 1975 pain in the wazoo (OED3 note on wazoo: Frequently as a (euphemistic) substitute for ass in figurative phrases, as pain in the wazoo, etc); 1995 we can expect spears up the wazoo [ figurative spears in a literal wazoo]; 2002 possessed (sails) out of Possessor’s wazoo [entirely figurative]

Improved coverage of ass. OED3 (Sept. 2018) under ass has the phrases:

P16. up the ass: to a great or excessive extent or degree. Originally short for up to the ass: cf. up to one’s (also the) ass at Phrases 3. [1st cite: 1963 J. Rechy City of Night  ii. 149 He shows me this collection.. — all kindsa weird costumes. An boots! — boots an costumes up the ass.]

P18. out the ass: to a great or excessive degree. [1st cite: 1972 J. W. Haldeman War Year iv. 42 We got clerks out the ass in this company.]

So: degree up/out the ass appeared in the 60s and 70s — I would have guessed earlier, but the Antiquity Illusion is as strong as the Recency Illusion — and then up/out the wazoo appeared in 1981 — again, I would have guessed earlier — suggesting that wazoo was a playful elaboration on ass in this context.

Wazoo in the wider culture. This turns out to be a surprisingly huge topic, from which I’m picking just two little bits having to do with brand names.

Wazoo as a brand name for a loud kazoo. From the Kazoobie Kazoos site:

(#1) The Wazoo kazoo

The Wazoo is the “excessively LOUD kazoo.” The horn on the top amplifies and projects the sound of the kazoo. It’s one of the loudest kazoos we’ve ever made!

The Wazoo is the perfect kazoo for live performance and marching in parades. It really projects the sound. Plus, it looks really cool.

Get the Wazoo and you’ll be playing music “out the wazoo!”

The Wazoo comes in assorted colors.

Wazoo as a brand name for a chewy candy. From the Amazon page for “Chewy Fruity Candy Sprinkled with Crunchies” (made by Topps):

(#2) It comes in the flavors Blue Razz and WildBerriez (spelled that way to avoid claiming that any actual berries were implicated in its creation)

5 Responses to “wazoo”

  1. Ellen Kaisse Says:

    Here in Washington State, Wazoo is the nickname for Washington State University (WSU). It’s pronounced with a [z], not the [s] you might expect from what it stands for.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      That Wazoo could be used as an affectionate nickname for a university is just one more indication that the word wazoo is in its form a playful, childish, sound-imitative invention, hard to take offense at (even when it’s clearly being used to refer to an anus).

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    A colleague at my first real job (~50 years ago!) used to say up the wim-wam (or possibly whim-wham), a usage I don’t think I’ve ever heard anywhere else. Another colleague picked up on this and playfully replaced it with up the yin-yang.

  3. MWarhol Says:

    I recall driving through North Carolina,(probably sometime in the 1990s) and seeing a billboard for an outlet store advertising that it had “linens up the wazoo”. Presumably the expression had been long-enough used in polite (or politish) circles to be bleached of any untoward associations

    The word is also used in the title of Frank Zappa’s excellent 1972 jazz album “The Grand Wazoo”. The fanciful story in the liner notes describes the GW as “an oversize primitive-but-effective megaphone”.

  4. Collocation restriction | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] entertaining example using the mildly off-color slang noun wazoo, treated in my 9/29/20 posting […]

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