A double whammy comes from the idea of someone giving you the evil eye—two of them.
Have you ever been hit with a double whammy?
It’s a double-dose of luck so bad it feels like a one–two punch.
Maybe your rent came due the same day as your car payment. That’s a double whammy. Or your girlfriend dumped you right after your lost your job. Ouch. Double whammy.
But what is a whammy? And why exactly does it come in pairs?
From the best we can tell, whammy came into use in the 1940s. It probably came from the rather dull wham (meaning a blow) made cute and fanciful with an –y ending. Back then, it was used to denote a hex or evil influence.
Whammy showed up frequently in sports coverage. For example, if your baseball team were losing, you might complain that someone put a whammy on you.
The term double whammy came into play a bit later. Its origins can be traced back to the Lil’ Abner comics by cartoonist Al Capp. A 1951 strip features Evil-Eye Fleegle, a zoot-suit-wearing native of Brooklyn. In the comic, Fleegle boasts that he can “putrefy citizens” just by giving them his evil eye.
One eye’s a single whammy. But if he stares at them with “th’ full power o’ both eyes,” well, according to Fleegle, that’s a double whammy, “which I hopes I never hafta use.” Look out.
Though its association with actual curses has since faded, the term double whammy still means bad things are afoot, and remains a useful expression to this day. Just hope you never have to use it.
So there’s your tidbit for today: a double whammy is a double-dose of misfortune.
Ammer, Christine. Double whammy. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Dent, Susie. Double whammy. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 19th ed. Chambers Harrap, 2012.
Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Double whammy Oxford University Press (subscription required, accessed February 9, 2017).