"Zoom-zooms (or zoo-zoos) and wham-whams"

Chris Waigl chris at LASCRIBE.NET
Thu Jul 6 16:23:02 UTC 2006

I'm subscribed to _Wikihow_, and in today's instalment
<http://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Being-in-Prison> found the following
piece of advice:

Don't accept zoom-zooms and wham-whams, it means you are for sale. No one
in there [in prison, CW] will ever give something for nothing.

I had never heard of _zoom-zooms_ or _wham-whams_ before, and neither had
any of the native speakers (most AmE) I asked. It turns out, there are a
number of different opinions what they might mean, though one is dominant.

My first guess was that this was about drug freebies. Indeed, in the video
game _Grand Theft Auto_ there appears to be such a reference to _Zoom

The game is non-linear and features a large number of sub-plots, centered
on the various gangs and the Zaibatsu Corporation's legal manufacturing of
the "play-drug" Zoom Zoom and its derivatives. Play the gangs off against
each other or infiltrate them and suck up to the big bosses, then cross
and double-cross to your heart's content and own advantages.

But the dominant meaning seems to be prison slang for small snacks such as
candy bars that can be bought in the prison's own store. The Urban
Dictionary also lists _zoo zoo_:

zoo zoo
Prison term for candy bar
Give me a zoo zoo, I'll pay you back two of em.
by Tracy Davis LCC prison May 3, 2006
zoom zooms
prison slang for items bought from a list of goods one can buy from the
prison canteen. i.e. cookies, snacks, etc.
Man if you keep losing at spades, you gonna lose all your wham whams and
zoom zooms.
by prison linguist May 18, 2004
wham whams
prison slang for items bought from a list and picked up from the prison
canteen. i.e. cookies, snacks.
see also zoom zooms
Man if you keep losing at spades, you gonna lose all your wham whams and
zoom zooms
by prison linguist May 18, 2004

The Dictionary page of the site BoyzBehindBars.com
<http://www.boyzbehindbars.com/v10/dictionary/dictionary.html> (which may
be of larger interest here, as an aside) lists:

Zoo Zoos: Canteen goods, such as candy or cookies. Also called "wham whams."

This entry seems to have been added before June 15, 2001.

The Usenet archives as kept by Google Groups have the term from 1997, but
in varying senses. The first one clearly doesn't fit the above, and the
second seems to use the expression a bit like _bells and whistles_
(probably the sense in the first, too), in the context of music:

Since a few of the dealers have been selling between 200 and 250
motorcycles per year for the past 3 model years (94-95-96), it seems like
they (the dealers) will be taking care of their 'preferred" customers
first; you know the ones...they buy all the zoom-zooms and wham-whams,
before they take care of the replacements for the regular 'Joes'.
Feb 3 1997
Good tone has to be reproduced honestly and efficiently. You can have all
of the EQ, knobs, bells, whistles, wham whams, and zoom zooms in all of
creation. If that shaped and colored frequency cannot be reproduced,
what has been the point?
Mar 22 1998
It sounded like Dickey Betts under a bunch of zoo zoos and wham whams. A
guys got a right to be bored and want to try some new sounds, but be
carefull. I thought it just dilluted his strengths and added nothing
worthwhile. To me, the jazz guys should turn the thing off too.
Nov 24 1998

Then, on alt.gathering.rainbow (the purpose of which I haven't looked up),
there was a short discussion <http://tinyurl.com/f39zs> of the term in
1999, after Andy R. Steinberg asks "Pardon my ignorance, but what are Zoom
Zooms and Wham Whams? They're not in my rainbow glossary." In the first
answer, someone writing as Sanity Clause explains:

Way I heard it pronounced was "zoo zoos & wham whams" but be that as it may;
my unofficial jailhouse lexicon calls it "sweet junk food" (candy bars,

Which appears to trigger Steinberg's memory:

Silly me! Wham Wham = WahWah = snack i.e. apple or pretzel. Zoom Zoom =
ZooZoo = sweet snack i.e. candy or snickers bar. I heard the shortened
terms at the Missouri nation 96 but didn't immediately connect it with
the  longer terms.

>From then on, the unofficial prison slang vocab lists appear to have
streamlined the term, and I can't find the first sense any longer.

There's also a German band called Zaftig, who called one of their CDs
(cover version of pop songs, recorded in 1999)
<http://www.zaftig.de/promo_cds.htm>  "Zoo  Zoos and Wham  Whams",
slightly misunderstanding the term:

Den ungewöhnlichen Titel hat das Wormser Quintett in einem englischen
Wörterbuch ausgegraben. Amerikanische Häftlinge bezeichnen damit das, was
im Knast verboten und deshalb begehrt ist ...
[The quinet from Worms unearthed the unusual title in an English
dictionary. American inmates use it to refer to what is banned, and
therefore desirable, behind bars ... . -- Wormser Nachrichten [press
review], my translation]]

Last quote from a piece of 2006 (?) student work:

Jenks was Brown’s business manager—it all went through Jenks. You can’t
collect money for legal work behind the wall, so Jenks collected
commissary. Commissary was for the prison store, getting zoo zoos, wham
whams—that’s cookies and crackers—or oranges. Or cigarettes, if you

Of course there are other onomatopoetic _zoom zooms_ around.

Chris Waigl

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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