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Old 30th July 2009, 01:24 PM   #1
Kritikos
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Question of definition: what is woo woo?

Although I have been reading skeptical literature for some time, I only learned the term "woo woo" (or "woo-woo," or simply "woo") once I started visiting this and some other on-line message boards. The term still makes me smile: it not only saves a lot of keystrokes over terms like "belief in paranormal phenomena" and "conspiracy theories," but has the attraction of having derision built right into it. I assume that its derivation is from the following sort of gesture: widen your eyes, extend and wiggle your fingers outward at face level, andpronounce a prolonged and tremulous "woo" deep in the throat with a rising and falling intonation. So one could say that the noun "woo woo" or "woo" just means anything that can be mocked by this gesture. But one can imagine someone who understands English perfectly well but who is unacquainted with the gesture in question and has no idea what it means. One would have to explain the meaning of the gesture to such a person in order to explain the meaning of the word. It would be preferable, though, just to have an explanation of the meaning of the word in its own right. Has anyone got any proposals?

Bear in mind that my question is not what things are woo woo, or what the marks of woo woo are, but simply what the word means, or how it can best be explained.
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Old 30th July 2009, 02:26 PM   #2
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This comes up a bit. Here is a recent forum link discussing the definition of woo.

http://www.internationalskeptics.com...d.php?t=141059

ETA: I am not sure of the origin of the word, but I am sure someone on this forum probably knows.
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Old 30th July 2009, 02:39 PM   #3
Maia
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That was a good thread.... I see what you mean, though. It would be interesting to know where the word actually came from in the first place. The only possible origin that comes to mind is those Warner Bros. cartoons where Daffy Duck would jump up and down yelling "Woo woo! Woo woo!" But somehow, I doubt that's it.
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Old 30th July 2009, 02:59 PM   #4
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The origin traces back to cartoons where a ghost comes out and makes a 'woooooooo' noise. Later people adapted this and used it as described in the OP as an imitation of a ghost, which later extended to all types of paranormal activity.

At least that is my uneducated guess
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Old 30th July 2009, 03:05 PM   #5
shawmutt
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A good reference for anyone wondering about skeptical terms is the skeptical dictionary.

Here's the entry for woo woo: http://www.skepdic.com/woowoo.html
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Old 30th July 2009, 04:13 PM   #6
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When I was a young kid (and catholic) my mom would refer to New Age stuff as "woo-woo," despite the fact that she believes Sylvia Browne, John Edwards, (and of course, the Jesus). So the term's been around for at least 20 years, I think it's mostly just an "imitation" of the sort of "baby talk" a crystal healer or reiki healer (or whatever) might use about "energies" etc. So, I think it's a kind of onomatopoeia for "nonsense." Or an imitation of the (woo-woo woo-woo) twilight zone/ghost-story style music.
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Old 30th July 2009, 04:13 PM   #7
Big Les
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Originally Posted by yasic View Post
The origin traces back to cartoons where a ghost comes out and makes a 'woooooooo' noise. Later people adapted this and used it as described in the OP as an imitation of a ghost, which later extended to all types of paranormal activity.

At least that is my uneducated guess
That's what I've always assumed. It's what ghosts do! I've only just realised that it's an assumption and not a concrete etymology...

edit - yes - twilight zone too! Or 'World of the Strange' for those Brits in their late 20s who remember Trev and Simon.
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Old 30th July 2009, 05:05 PM   #8
Kritikos
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Originally Posted by Ixion View Post
This comes up a bit. Here is a recent forum link discussing the definition of woo.
(I had to cut out the URL because the site won't let me include URLs in my posts until after I have made fifteen of them. Bloody annoying!)

Aargh! I actually did a search before I started this thread, and I failed to find a thread with almost the same title as mine! Well, thanks for the reference. Actually, though, even though the thread is similar to mine in its title, it is different in content. The OP there says:
Originally Posted by Typicallucas View Post
I feel like I know what woo is when I see it, but can you give me some clear guidelines that I can use to determine what is woo and what isn't?
This concerns identifying marks of woo, not the definition of woo. As I said, I am interested the question of definition. Both questions are addressed in the thread, though (of course, one can't keep them entirely separate).

Originally Posted by yasic View Post
The origin traces back to cartoons where a ghost comes out and makes a 'woooooooo' noise. Later people adapted this and used it as described in the OP as an imitation of a ghost, which later extended to all types of paranormal activity.

At least that is my uneducated guess
Mine too.
Originally Posted by shawmutt View Post
A good reference for anyone wondering about skeptical terms is the skeptical dictionary.

Here's the entry for woo woo:
Thanks. I notice that the article there offers a definition and then quotes another definition, but the two seem to me not equivalent. The Skepdic definition reads:

Quote:
Woo-woo (or just plain woo) refers to ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers.
The definition quoted from Doubletongued.org reads:
Quote:
adj. concerned with emotions, mysticism, or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific; mysterious; new agey. Also n., a person who has mystical or new age beliefs.
It seems to me that the first definition is much broader. The Skepdic definition, as I understand it, can be applied to conspiracy theories, while the Doubletongued definition cannot be. Is the term not commonly applied to conspiracy theories as well as to paranormal stuff?
Originally Posted by Ferguson View Post
When I was a young kid (and catholic) my mom would refer to New Age stuff as "woo-woo," despite the fact that she believes Sylvia Browne, John Edwards, (and of course, the Jesus). So the term's been around for at least 20 years
I had no idea. So often, when one learns a new word, one assumes that it has not been in use for long, simply because one had never heard it before!
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Old 6th May 2010, 04:06 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Ixion View Post
This comes up a bit. Here is a recent forum link discussing the definition of woo.

http://www.internationalskeptics.com...d.php?t=141059

ETA: I am not sure of the origin of the word, but I am sure someone on this forum probably knows.
Although I can't be certain, I think I have a good lead on the origin of the term here:

http://lippard.blogspot.com/2010/05/...-term-woo.html
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Old 6th May 2010, 04:42 PM   #10
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Why, hello, old thread! Actually, I recently found an excellent source on the topic of this thread: "Woo Defined" at Woofighters.org. Here is the main part:

Quote:
In recent years, the term has been used to describe just about everything in the skeptical community’s cross hairs and our definition is fairly broad. In general, woo includes ideas and practices, regardless of popularity or age, which are based on a claim which meets one or more of the following criteria:

* requires unreasonable assumptions
* is not testable (so it requires unreasonable assumptions)
* is not supported by evidence despite testing
* refutes current knowledge without sufficient evidence
I cringe at the barbarous misuse of the word "refute" in the last bullet point: to refute is to disprove. What the writers mean, presumably, is "contradict" or perhaps "denies." Apart from that flaw, the definition seems to me an apt one.

Originally Posted by lippard View Post
Although I can't be certain, I think I have a good lead on the origin of the term here:

http://lippard.blogspot.com/2010/05/...-term-woo.html
Thanks for the link, Lippard. I just posted a comment on your blog under the identity "MKR."
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Old 6th May 2010, 07:14 PM   #11
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woo-woo is what da choo choo train does.
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