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Which Means What it Means

October 23, 2008 | 8 Comments

Mr Keillor:
How did you come up with the name "Wobegon"? I ask because it just came to my attention that "wobbegong" is Aussie slang for "excellent" (see Partridge's Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.) Lake Excellent, where all the children are above average? OK, likely just a slightly interesting coincidence.

Pete V.B.
Colorado Springs

It was just one of those lucky moments at the keyboard, Pete. "Wobegon" sounded Indian to me and Minnesota is full of Indian names. They mask the ethnic heritage of the town, which I wanted to do, since it was half Norwegian, half German. And it recalls the word "woebegone" which means what it means. Never heard of that Australian word until now.



I'm 50 years old and I've never heard the word 'wobbegong' either. Books of 'Aussie Slang' are generally pretty hilarious and don't reflect the way we speak. Some of the expressions in those books were arcane when my grandparents used them and the rest are new to me.

I never suspected that Wobegon sounded Indian, I just saw the play on words and took it to meant that the place was so far out of the way it was like our 'beyond the black stump'.

Wollongong, NSW

PS How long have you been back on the air in Australia? I only just found out in the last month!

As an Australian I have NEVER heard of the term 'wobbegong' used to mean 'excellent'. I have no idea where your correspondent came up with this - but it's totally incorrect.
Actually a wobbegong is a kind of shark. It's also known as a 'carpet shark' because wobbegongs have attractively patterned skins. They grow quite large - several metres long - but are generally very placid. You normally see them when scuba diving lying on the sand at the bottom, often near rocks. If idiots try to pull their tails or stir them up they can swing round and bite back (and who would blame them?). But if you leave them alone they're great to see as you swim by.

I am Australian and wobbegong is the name of a species of shark common to our coastal waters. I have never known or heard that it means excellent.

However I am familiar with the phrase 'woe be gone'.

I've lived in Australia for 47 years and I've never heard anyone use the word 'wobbegong' for 'excellent'. Australian slang tends to be rhyming slang, and the two words don't rhyme, do they?

Wobbegong is a species of shark found in Australian waters.

I've lived in Australia for over 50 years and have never heard wobbegong used in that context. However, it is a type of shark.

Perhaps the town was actually founded by an Autralian on walkabout, and he had his map turned upside-down the whole time. Now only the Sons of Knute know the truth, and they're too dignified to inflict embarrassment on any person that would believe otherwise.

Darn. I always thought it was a twist on "Lake Wabigoon" which is not far north over the Ontario border. I used to canoe that country and "Woebegone" was a common gag for it.
Dave Loeks
Whitehorse, Yukon

Wobegon is a Indian word from the Hacksaw Indian tribe.I was born in Weleetka, Oklahoma and as a young man learned to speak Hacksaw. The word means" no fertilizer here".Its a common word in the language and used to note great inferences of disgust.
I know of no Lake by that name but some new federal dams could be named after that feeling of emotion.

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