What is the Origin of the Term Wobbly?
We get asked that question a lot. The short answer is, we don't actually know, but we have compiled some research that suggests at least four popular theories of the term's origin:
- Theory #1 - "Eye Wobble Wobble"
- Theory #2 - "The Wobble Saw"
- Theory #3 - "Wobbling the Works" (a Code for "Sabotage")
- Theory #4 - "Wobbly" As a Pejorative Slur by the Employing Class
Each theory is considered and discussed in detail, but the conclusion is that there is little hard, factual evidence to support any of these theories, and no better theory exists.
There may be other theories still, and some are discussed in various books (in particular, the late Archie Green's Wobblies, Pile Butts, and Other Heroes: Laborlore Explorations, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), but none are any more conclusive than these we have offered here.
All of our research has shown so far that the origin of the term Wobbly cannot be determined, and so we have to unfortunately admit that we don't honestly know the answer. Though the true origin of the epithet "Wobbly" remains a mystery, most of us IWW members gladly use it to describe ourselves, because the term has become an integral part of the IWW's history and culture.