A puppet on a string


"The term quockerwodger, although referring to a wooden toy figure which jerks its limbs about when pulled by a string, has been supplemented with a political meaning. A pseudo-politician, one whose strings of action are pulled by somebody else, is now often termed a quockerwodger."
— A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words


This is another word that, like Aunt Sally, originally had a playful origin but was subesequently given another, darker, political lease of life. It was originally used for a child's toy, a wooden puppet with limbs loosely joined to the torso. A single string attached to the head enabled the user to tweak the puppet and be royally entertained by the random movements of the jointed members.

A quockerwodger is distinct from a marionette, in that there is but one string, rather than one for each limb. The result is that there is less control, more randomness and possibly more hilarity in the play.

The origins of the word are less clear; World Wide Words tells of attempts to link it with quocken, meaning to vomit or choke, and quocker, an itinerant harvest worker. Neither seem to throw any light on it. Some have tried to connect it with an alleged dialect word quock, meaning to quake, but whilst that is tempting, a few minutes of research failed to uncover anything. Dialect, schmialect. I prefer to think that it's onomatopœic in origin; I imagine the clacking of the limbs against the body and one another might have been an influence.

In any case, I originally discovered the word through the British TV series QI, a clever programme devoted to hilariously discussing "quite interesting" things in the guise of a panel game show. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who fancies a laugh.

A peek at Google Trends has peaks of interest in January 2004 and July 2021. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why, though a recent resurgence in political discussion may be a clue. Several politicians have been described as quockerwodgers, with the suggestion that their strings are being pulled to produce some random, destabilising effect.

Me? I just love the sound of the word.




World Wide Words
Google Books
Google Trends

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