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Re: Aha, she cried, waving her wooden leg in the air...

Posted by Graham Cambray on January 29, 2009 at 21:22

In Reply to: Aha, she cried, waving her wooden leg in the air... posted by Graham Cambray on January 14, 2009 at 14:35:

: "Aha, she cried, waving her wooden leg in the air, and banging the baby's head on the ceiling". An extraordinary phrase (as with a previous enquiry) used by my late father. I can't even claim it was imbued with much meaning, beyond that of gentle surprise - everything beyond the "Aha" seemed to be "padding". Has anyone else come across this phrase, and know its origin? My guess would be a catchphrase from some early radio show.

: PS Apologies re struggling gently (on my first day) with the mechanics of the site. I have left a blank comment under "My old Dutch" and two (almost) identical comments under "Walking in tall cotton" (although neither of the latter has shown up in the index yet). Sorry.

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Well, not much response on this site. I see someone tried back in 2005, and didn't get very far either.

However, I've been digging, and thought I'd log what I'd found for future enquirers.

There are a number of other forums which have tacked this; here are three:
http://www.poetrylibrary.org.uk/queries/lostquotes/?id=56
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=1739
http://www.englishforums.com/English/WavingAWoodenLegWellerism/hnkgw/post.htm

It turns out that this is one of the phrases that Nigel Rees spends most time on in his book - A Word in your Shell-like. He traces it back to the final couplet of a hymn by Miss Etta Campbell and TE Perkins;
"Too late! Too late!" will be the cry -
Jesus of Nazareth has passed by. (Written 1870, USA)
It has passed through a number of parodies such as;
"Too late! Too late!" the maiden cried,
Lifted her wooden leg and died.

You can see the original hymn's words here: http://ehymnbook.org/p01/p01561.html. I don't think most of the words of the parody are published - possibly not very polite.

Most of the earliest instances have "too late". "Aha" seems to be a later variation. The phrase seems to have crossed over into at least one version of the folk (?) song "The Wayward Boy" which can be found in the book "The
Erotic Muse" (2nd ed. 1991) pp. 86-87:

"Aha!" she cried and waved her wooden leg,
And jumped in bed,
And covered up her head,
And swore that I could not find her.
But I knew damn well
That she lied like hell,
So I jumped in right behind her.

Beyond that?

In the UK, a number of sources (see Forums, above) think it may have been a phrase used in the Music Hall, and there's talk of a "hit" comedy record , in 1936. And, as with so many phrases like this, usage in the forces in WW2.

So we have a possible derivation to a hymn written by a 14-year-old in the US. Otherwise, even Nigel Rees gets a bit bogged down.

The phrase is still in use today. For example, if you consult Hansard for the Victoria Parliament, 26 October 2005 (http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/downloadhansard/pdf/Assembly/Spring%202005/Assembly%20Extract%2026%20October%202005%20from%20Book%207.pdf) you'll find Mr Ryan (Leader of the Nationals) saying:

"It might be too late", she cried, waving her wooden leg in the air, but the fact is that the commentary he has made is generally right. Labor is not fit to govern in this state.

So that's what I've found. For the record.