• whizbang •
Pronunciation: (h)wiz-bæng • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. A firework that jumps around making a whizzing sound with periodic bangs. 2. Someone or something known for its startling, unexpected, even explosive effect or excellence.
Notes: Whizbang may be used as a noun, an adjective, and, in some circles, as a verb without adding anything to it. "That was a whizbangin' concert, man," may be slang, but today's Good Word itself isn't all that far away from slang.
In Play: Today's Good Word works fine as a noun: "Susan Liddy-Gates is a whizbang at convincing juries to give her clients large settlements." But it also works just as well as a noun modifier: "No amount of whizbang technology can help Ivan Odor get elected to public office."
Word History: Whizbang arose in World War I. It referred to the shell of a small-caliber high-velocity German gun that had the characteristic set of sounds that whizbang tries to capture. So, originally this word arose by means of onomatopoeia. However, whiz and bang were words already in the language. Whiz has two origins. First, there is the obvious imitation of a hissing sound. But that does not explain the phrases whiz kid or he's a whiz at math. This usage apparently came from a reduction of wizard. Bang would seem to have originally referred to the sound a hammer makes striking metal. It shows up in Old Norse banga "to hammer" and Bengel, which means "stick, cudgel" in some German dialects. English could have picked it up from either of these sources. (Let's all thank David McWethy, a whizbang at garage sales and frequent contributor of Good Words, for today's.)