williwags (= AE boondocks)

ewie

Senior Member
English English
I came across this word last night reading the short story Riding the bullet by Stephen King:

Meanwhile, I was out here in the williwags and I was suddenly tired out ~ my feet felt as if they had been dipped in cement.

The narrator is in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, so I took it to mean about the same as boondocks. It's not in M-W or at dictionary.com.
What a brilliant word!!!!
Do any of our esteemed AE colleagues know it? use it? know where it came from? Has Mr.K. made it up as a faux 'Maine-ism'?
 
  • gasman

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    I found this reference in Google, and it comes from New Brunswick, in Eastern Canada

    willy-wags \'wih-lee-whagz\ n - Also: willy-whacks; Any remote, outlying, or far-flung place; "Buddy lives way out in the willy-wags." In common usage the term refers to any area more remote and less populated than your own. Often shortened to willies, synonyms include "the sticks," "the boonies," etc. See also:
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    That is a decidedly excellent word, ewie.

    It gets very few google hits, but enough to suggest that S King Esq did not invent it; gasman's post confirms that. With an "e-hyphen" in the middle it also seems to be some sort of bird (a wagtail?), so perhaps there's a connection.

    I plan to add it forthwith to the list of expressions I use on all possible occasions.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I found this reference in Google, and it comes from New Brunswick, in Eastern Canada

    willy-wags \'wih-lee-whagz\ n - Also: willy-whacks
    Thanks Gasman. I take it you're not in New Brunswick, then? Have you heard it in your part of Canada? Maybe you could ask around a bit?:)
    The Also: version is, if anything, even better.

    That is a decidedly excellent word, ewie.:D

    It gets very few google hits, but enough to suggest that S King Esq did not invent it; gasman's post confirms that. With an "e-hyphen" in the middle it also seems to be some sort of bird (a wagtail?), so perhaps there's a connection.
    I must get round to googlewagging it myself some time.

    I plan to add it forthwith to the list of expressions I use on all possible occasions.
    I've already added it to mine
     

    gasman

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    Have you heard it in your part of Canada? Maybe you could ask around a bit?:)

    I am afraid not. In fact I have never heard it spoken at all, and I have lived on the Prairies in a large city, a small city, the bush, and finally a tiny village over the past 50+ years. Unfortunately, I am house bound at present so it would be rather difficult to make enquiries. I note, by the way, that enquiries is underlined, presumably for an error, could someone explain it to me. Thanks
     

    Blootix

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Haha, williwags. I heard this word a lot more often in the South. Curiously, I haven't heard "boondocks" used as much as williwags.
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    In case anyone's interested, one we use here is 'the wops' or 'wopwops'. But use with caution, because I informed Canadian relatives that my parents' house was 'in the wops' and they were taken aback because they thought I was making some sort of a racist comment. Apparently in Canada wop = without passport (if I remember correctly) and is not very nice.
     

    gasman

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    "Apparently in Canada wop"

    is not a term that would be acceptable. It is a derogatory word for Italians.
     

    icecreamsoldier

    Senior Member
    New Zealand English
    Thanks for mentioning that, Gwan and gasman. I'll be careful about whom I say it to in future! However I'm sure our Canadian friends would at least hesitate at "wops" in context before making any unpleasant misinterpretations:

    "We're really out in the wops now, my cellphone's not getting any reception."
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    Have you heard it in your part of Canada? Maybe you could ask around a bit?:)

    I am afraid not. In fact I have never heard it spoken at all, and I have lived on the Prairies in a large city, a small city, the bush, and finally a tiny village over the past 50+ years. Unfortunately, I am house bound at present so it would be rather difficult to make enquiries. I note, by the way, that enquiries is underlined, presumably for an error, could someone explain it to me. Thanks

    The traditional distinction between enquire and inquire is that enquire is to be used for general senses of 'ask', while inquire is reserved for uses meaning 'make a formal investigation'. In practice, however, enquire (and enquiry) is more common in British English while inquire (and inquiry) is more common in US English, but otherwise there is little discernible distinction in the way the words are used.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Have you heard it in your part of Canada? Maybe you could ask around a bit?:)

    For those interested in a brief history lesson, New Brunswick and the State of Maine (where many of Stephen King's novels are centred) had an extremely porous border in the late 1700s and most of the 1800s. Thousands of citizens left New Brunswick to live in Maine and just as many Maine citizens left Maine to live in N.B. As a result, much of the odd words originating in New Brunswick made their way into the lexicon of Maine. "Williwags" is only one of them. And, that would be why someone from the Canadian Prairies has never heard the word.:)
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Thanks to everyone for their input(s):)
    Gasman, I'm sorry to hear you're housebound, and hope you'll be out and about again soon. And wop means the same in BE as it does in CanE.
    Viv, I really like Willie wagtail too. (That reminds me of when I was a child and there was a herd of yellow wagtails living in our garden: my father always referred to them as yellow-bellied fleep-tweeters ~ yes, talking twaddle is hereditary:D).
    Gwan, I also really like the wopwops. I wonder why 'the back of beyond' should produce such comical terms? I'm stuck out here in the williwagging wopwops.
    Dimcl, thanks for the interesting historical stuff ~ I never knew that. (In fact I couldn't have placed New Brunswick on a map if I'd tried:eek:).

    My The Cassell Dictionary of Slang [1999], my 'bible' which I completely forgot to consult, is very disappointing (again):
    willy wag: n. [20C] [Aus.] a pack [rhy.sl. willy wag = SWAG n.]
    wop-wop: n. [1900s] [Aus.] a roustabout, a handyman, a casual labourer [? WHOP v., i.e. the noise of the man running up and down the shearing shed carrying fleeces to the wool tables]
    The same source gives the derivation of wop [= Italian] as Spanish guapo. Odd that. And just a little off-topic, methinks.
     

    out2lnch

    Senior Member
    English-Canada
    Thanks Gasman. I take it you're not in New Brunswick, then? Have you heard it in your part of Canada? Maybe you could ask around a bit?:)

    I'm in Ottawa (about a 10 to 12 hour drive from New Brunswick), and have never heard the term. More common is the 'sticks' and the 'boonies'. I'd ask a New Brunswicker coworker, but she's on maternity leave so I won't be seeing her till next December. If I remember then, I'll ask her ;)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Well, Maine and NB share a pretty long border, so this makes it a regional (rather than national) issue:D

    (There would appear to be no connection to the BC town of Chilliwack, which Williwhack resembles:D)
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    From DARE (the multivolume Dictionary of American Regional English):

    willywags chiefly n New England, esp Maine
    Tangled underbrush; an area covered with such underbrush; a remote, sparsely inhabited area.
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    (REVIVED THREAD!)

    I think Parla both Tim M. and Parla have found the regional meaning.

    I use "the sticks" like #15 in this thread.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Ah, an old friend revived! (As the actress said to the bishop.)
    It seems to me we don't have any such colourful terminology for this kind of thing in the UK, especially England ... I suppose because nowhere is really remote from anywhere else.
    (I personally use the term the arse-end of nowhere, though it doesn't really mean 'somewhere remote': it just means 'somewhere I'm lost':D)
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    (Well, I did say 'especially England', JS, but even in northwest Scotland you're never really far from anywhere else ~ if you see what I mean.)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    (Well, I did say 'especially England', JS, but even in northwest Scotland you're never really far from anywhere else ~ if you see what I mean.)
    I did notice you had left open the opportunity to explore other parts of the UK - and even though you may not be "far" from anywhere else (if there are even any crows around to fly), it takes a h3ll of a long time to drive back:D Achiltibuie is a long way off the beaten track but has a nice inn:D - loooong drive :D
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    I think "willi-wags" is relative. If you are city-dweller, then 30 miles from where you are is "williwags".

    If you live in a small town, then 10 miles out into the countryside is "williwags".

    If you live on Earth, the Moon is definitely "williwags".

    As far as Scotland goes, would people consider the Outer Hebrides "williwags"? Are islands considered, when we think of "remoteness", or need it refer to the near-/mid-region, and on the mainland?
     
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