Whizz Kid

That’s the punch line, right up front. I was going to post about the complex practices that attend my living in Urinal City in the Land of Diuresis, and maybe I’ll get to that some day, but today it’s pretty much just giggly stuff about English lexical items.

It all started with an exchange with a sympathetic and supportive friend about my recent medical travails and my surmounting them. I wrote to him about needing to pee every 20 minutes or so:

Well, all those diuretics completely eliminated the very dangerous edema (part of my advanced kidney disease), so my feet and legs look normal now [and not all puffed up]. But it does mean I’m essentially housebound. Just this week I realized that [I need to keep staving off the edema, so] this will be a lifelong thing. I’m a Whizz Kid now.

Yes, a cheap pun, playing on whiz kid (glossed by some as ‘child genius’), with whiz / wiz ‘wonderfully skilled or talented person’ > whizz / whiz ‘an act of urination’ (the noun that corresponds to the verb whizz / whiz ‘urinate’ — which imitates the sound of urination). Where whiz kid is a half-rhyme, /z/ – /d/ being a homorganic voiced fricative – obstruent pair. So it’s all a little carnival of word play.

From OED2, not yet fully revised but modified as recently as Dec. 2021:

noun whizz / whiz / wiz (widely viewed as abbreviated  < wizard): slang (orig. U.S.) a. somethng very remarkable [1st cite 1908] b. a person who is wonderfully skilled or talented in some respect [1st cite 1914]

compound noun whiz-kid / whiz kid / whizz-kid / whizz kid [presumably also wiz-kid / wiz kid]: an exceptionally successful or brilliant young person, esp. in politics or business [1st cite 1960, but the narrower ‘child genius’ sense is guaranteed to be older than that, as we’ll see in a moment]

Radio and tv in the 40s and 50s, which brought us the game show Quiz Kid, whose name is a (cute) pun on whiz kid, so whiz kid must have been current at the time.

I was there at the time, still a kid myself, but I appreciated the pun; I was a whiz kid myself. In fact, other kids called me Whiz Kid, in a part-mocking, part-admiring way.

From Wikipedia:

Quiz Kids is a radio and TV series originally broadcast in the 1940s and 1950s. Created by Chicago public relations and advertising man Louis G. Cowan, and originally sponsored by Alka-Seltzer, the series was first broadcast on NBC from Chicago, June 28, 1940, airing as a summer replacement show for Alec Templeton Time. It continued on radio for the next 13 years. On television, the show was seen on NBC and CBS from July 6, 1949, to July 5, 1953, with Joe Kelly as quizmaster, and again from January 12 to September 27, 1956, with Clifton Fadiman as host.

The premise of the original show involved Kelly asking questions sent in by listeners and researched by Eliza Hickok and Rachel Stevenson. Kelly often said that he was not an intellectual, and that he could not have answered any of the questions without knowing the answer from his flash card. The answers were supplied by a panel of five children, chosen for their high IQs, strong academic interests, and appealing personalities, as well as such qualities as poise, quickness, and sense of humor.

Ah, 70+ years ago, a Whiz Kid; now a Whizz Kid.

(Oh, yes: I whizzed three times during the writing of this note, using the urinal that sits on my worktable, at my right hand — the hand that wields the urinal; my left hand is for my whizzer.)




3 Responses to “Whizz Kid”

  1. MWarhol Says:

    Just to toss another drop in this bucket, I happen to be presently re-reading an interesting book: “Whiz Mob: A Correlation of the Technical Argot of Pickpockets with Their Behavior Pattern”, by David W. Maurer (1955), in which we find “any pickpocket is a whiz or whizzer, though this is usually expressed as being on the whiz, which is the name for the profession.” Apparently the term comes from the speed with which the act is performed. The index presents us with the terms whiz cop, whiz dick (!), whiz moll, et. al. It also contains one of my favorite sentences in the English language: “Never round on an office, it might be fur.”

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    I was sorely tempted to diverge into all the other whiz(z)-words in English, but especially to cite Maurer’s wonderfully eccentric whiz mob book, if only for its title.

  3. Tim Evanson Says:

    There was QUITE an inappropriate 6″ action figure once, too.

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