Phrase: the old, slam-bang, thank-you-ma'ams (automobile tires circa 1925 probably)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 8 07:05:22 UTC 2011

Thursday's  Freakonomics blog post discussed the phrase
"wham-bam-thank-you ma’am!"

Fred listed an instance in the 1948 play Mister Roberts, where a
sailor character said "Well there goes the liberty.  That was sure a
wham-bam-thank-you ma'am!"

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (2005) lists some variants in which the
terms "ram bam", "gangbang" and "slam bam" are substituted for "wham

I found an instance of "ram bam" in 1943 in a book by the prominent
humorist Max Shulman. According to Google Books the following passage
appears in the novel "Barefoot Boy with Cheek".

A barefoot maiden in a white gown entered bearing a young ram above
her head. She deposited the ram in Roger's lap. "Ram, bam, Thank you
ma'am" he said.

So Max Shulman constructed a scenario in which "ram" referred to a
literal animal, but the humor for some readers may have been generated
by the knowledge of the sexual meaning of the phrase. Shulman was
familiar with the college slang of this period. I have not verified
this citation on paper, so the data may be incorrect. Here is a link:

In 1925 the Barbasol shaving cream company ran an interesting
advertisement in The American Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post.
The phrase "the old, slam-bang, thank-you-ma'ams" was used to refer to
old-fashioned automobile tires which produced a bumpy and jolting
ride. The advertisement contrasted these tires with the new balloon
tires which allowed for a more comfortable riding experience

 Here is an excerpt extracted from Google Books archive (not verified on paper):

The Balloon-tired shave

All who want to give up the nice, fat, easy-chair balloons and go back
to the old, slam-bang, thank-you-ma'ams of motoring, stand up! We
thought so.

Barbasol smooths out the shaving road the same new, modern, easy way.
Takes all the ruts and bumps and hairpin turns out of the razor tour.

I have not verified these citations on paper, but the 1925 date is
plausible. Here is a date probe showing the front page of the October
1925 issue of The American Magazine in the same volume as the

Here is a date probe showing a page header for the "November 7, 1925"
issue of the Saturday Evening Post in the same volume as the

These instances suggest a hypothesis: The phrase may have been shifted
from the domain of automobiles and tires into a sexual domain and
assigned a new meaning. Alternatively, it is also possible that the
advertising copy writers were exploiting a double-entendre. When
Jonathon Green was editing Cassell's he listed 1940s+ for "wham bam,
thank you ma'am" in the abbreviated coitus sense. He may have an
earlier cite in his new slang reference. The publicly available HDAS
does not reach "w" or "s".


The American Dialect Society -

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