a free-range Wampus

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Apr 16 14:39:28 UTC 2008

Folklore writings have plenty of "wampuses," "wampus cats," and "wampus kitties."  "Wampus" is even a surname. (Maybe those people should be investigated by cryptozoologists.)  Google Books even turns up a "Swamp Wampus on a Train."

  But George's wampus is pretty durned early.


George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: George Thompson
Subject: a free-range Wampus

In 1844 someone bought a junk in China and sailed it to NYC with a Chinese crew. While it was in the harbor here it caused a sensation, and the owner was able to charge admission to visit it. At least one member of the crew could speak enough English to answer questions from the tourists, and it seems he delighted in feeding them phony tales of life at home. The whole thing attracted a great deal of press coverage.

One newspaper reported that there was a "wampus" on the Chinese junk; that is, "a peculiar and very remarkable animal, called by the Chinese a "Wampus." Fo-ki Fum, the steward, has the animal in charge, and is willing to exhibit it for a little "cumshaw."
New York Daily Globe, July 17, 1844, p. 2, col. 6;

A days later, the Globe returned to the topic, quoting another paper:
Wonder if the "Wampus" is any relation to the Western "Catawampus?" -- Sunday News. No, sir: his father is a "Wobbler" -- is built like a nine-pin, and stands only on one leg. There are only three of the family alive; that is, the "Wampus," the "Wobbler," and a distant relation, the "Plock." We learn that Asa Hull, of the "Mutual," in West Broadway, is in treaty for the whole three. There has been nothing in this country of the like, since the "Pohamatamus," brought from Magola Island some years since, by Joel B. Fox, Esq., U. S. Consul to that port.
New York Daily Globe, July 19, 1844, p. 2, col. 5

wampus: OED: An objectionable, bad-tempered, or loutish person. [From 1912.] The O-man's Cassell's has this as a West Indian word, from the mid 20th C.

catawampus: OED: (adj) Fierce, unsparing, destructive. Also, askew, awry. (A high-sounding word with no very definite meaning.). [From 1840.]
(noun) Hence catawampus n., a bogy, a fierce imaginary animal. [From 1842 & 1874] The A-man's HDAS has the noun from 1833, defined as "a peculiar or remarkable thing or person"

cumshaw, from 1839 & 1885in the OED; HDAS has it from 1840 & 1868 in the U. S.

I'd be curious to know whether there was a Joel B. Fox in the consular service.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

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