Wha' Happened?
March 10, 2004 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Wha' Happened? A Mighty Wind is a favorite of mine, and Mike LaFontaine's weak catch-phrase remains one of those generators of instant hysteria for me. A few days ago, one of my coworkers started saying "Wha' Happened?" as his own little catch-phrase... and he swears he has never seen A Mighty Wind, and that he has ALWAYS randomly said it during those catch-phrase-appropriate moments. "Maybe I picked it up somewhere," he says. It's making me crazy. Can anyone tell me if "Wha' Happened" actually has a non-Mighty-Wind origin? Maybe I missed an in-joke along the way.
posted by kittyb to Writing & Language (25 answers total)
I thought it was only from A Mighty Wind myself, but a quick Google brings it up as a headline from a Wired News article from 2000. So it must have been around for awhile.
posted by FreezBoy at 6:04 AM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: Ah, see, I Googled too, and saw many "Wha Happeneds," but they all seemed to be by people referencing the movie. I've never seen it or read it or heard anything like it until the movie. I feel as though I am perhaps missing some vital pop culture segment. Why would they use it in that headline if it didn't have some kind of catch-phrase snappiness?
posted by kittyb at 6:10 AM on March 10, 2004

A local radio station in Ontario has been using "Wha' Happened?" in their soundboard rotation for a while now. Could be a similar thing in your area too.
posted by dotComrade at 6:16 AM on March 10, 2004

I have not seen A Mighty Wind, so I don't know about the elocution of the phrase...but if the "Wha" part is dragged out and sort of stuttered, then Stuart Scott uses it on Sports Center all the time.
posted by vito90 at 6:27 AM on March 10, 2004

Isn't there a "What Happen?" in All Your Base?
posted by mrbill at 6:48 AM on March 10, 2004


In A.D. 2101
War was beginning.
Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
posted by mrbill at 6:50 AM on March 10, 2004

I had a history professor 20 years ago who said it all the time and in exactly the same way. At the time I assumed it was from some old radio bit or movie character although the professor wasn't that old - in fact he's still alive and teaching according to the school's website. When I saw "A Mighty Wind" I was certain that Fred Willard and my professor were referencing the same thing.
posted by TimeFactor at 7:21 AM on March 10, 2004

Best answer: It's used in the song "Bongo, Bongo, Bongo (Civilization)" by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters. This page transcribes it as "What Happens?", but that's not how it's spoken in the song.

Warning: The song is politically incorrect, sung with a jaw-droppingly-patronizing accent by Kaye, and also catchy as all hell. It was a big hit, but for some reason you don't hear it too much these days anymore...
posted by Asparagirl at 7:51 AM on March 10, 2004

This is such a common "quip" that I'm going to guess you'll never find a specific progenitor for it. It's something I know I've heard all my life (b. 1959). However, "A Mighty Wind" made a big enough impact on the culture that the film will probably be considered the source of it, just as the beloved annoyed grunt is now identified with Homer Jay, despite "d'oh!" having existed as a comical interjection prior to the Simpsons. It's Public Domain Comedy!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:51 AM on March 10, 2004

On preview, allow me to hedge the word "never" in my previous post....(wow, asparagirl)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:52 AM on March 10, 2004

Shit, now I'm going to have that song stuck in my head all day... Seriously, if you haven't heard it yet, you may not want to. It's really catchy and really pushing over the borders into outright racism, and those are two flavors you don't want to mix in your head on purpose.

On the question of further narrowing down the time period, the Andrews Sisters were big in the war years, but the song mentions the atom bomb, so I would think it's from 1945-1953 or so.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:56 AM on March 10, 2004

Got it: "written by Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman / as recorded September 27, 1947 in Los Angeles by The Andrews Sisters with Danny Kaye and Vic Schoen & His Orchestra."
posted by Asparagirl at 8:01 AM on March 10, 2004

Response by poster: Wow. Awesomeness. Thanks, Asparagirl and everyone! I love Ask Metafilter!
posted by kittyb at 8:02 AM on March 10, 2004

Here in NYC, at least, "Wha'Happen'?" has become fairly common urban slang in the past few years, with a fairly nebulous meaning, roughly equivalent to "Excuse me?"
posted by mkultra at 8:19 AM on March 10, 2004

btw, iTunes has the song, in case MeFites are curious. Although asparagirl's assessment is pretty much spot on. It's a cultural artifact right on par with the Japanese caricature in the Bugs Bunny cartoon. "Bingle bangle bungle, I'm so happy in the jungle, I don't wanna go." And so on. Yipes, but definitely a catchy tune.
posted by vraxoin at 8:31 AM on March 10, 2004

Speaking of "Excuse me," I remember noticing as a teenager when "Excuuuuuse me," which I'd heard people in my family and elsewhere say for years, suddenly became "Steve Martin's catchphrase" because he made it a trademark punchline. In other words, there are a lot of these little quips floating out there that get passed around, yet once they're codified by Big Media, the public seems to forget that they ever existed before that. That seems to be the case with "Wha Happened?" - though I wouldn't put it past Willard, Guest & co. to have done that as kind of a meta-commentary on this process. They're ever so clever, you know.
posted by soyjoy at 8:34 AM on March 10, 2004

Bungle? In the jungle? Well, that's alright by me.

Actually, I'm seeing those Tull lyrics in a new, ugly light after hearing about the Danny Kaye song. I hope I'm wrong.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:54 AM on March 10, 2004

Lest we forget, Ricky Ricardo said "Wha' hoppen?" for "What happened?" to Lucy several times on I Love Lucy. When I saw A Mighty Wind, that was the first thing I thought of when hearing the catchphrase.
posted by mdeatherage at 9:11 AM on March 10, 2004

I guy in junior high (asian guy by the name of mike) used to say this exact phrase back then... this would have been about 1990. It was his catch phrase, and when I heard it in that movie my jaw nearly hit the floor, cuz I had never heard anyone else say it before.
posted by chaz at 10:01 AM on March 10, 2004

I remember it being a popular catch phrase for a while among two-tone white-boy college students, back in 1982 or so, because of this disc .
posted by fuzz at 10:36 AM on March 10, 2004

It's a cultural artifact right on par with the Japanese caricature in the Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The funny thing is, I also have all those old Warner Brothers / Disney / whoever-made-Popeye cartoons burned to a CD, after getting them off of Kazaa. Truly eye-opening. "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips" is an astounding (in a bad way) piece of culture.

Not that I'm trying to collect all these pieces of culturally insensitive pop culture, or anything, honest!
posted by Asparagirl at 12:05 PM on March 10, 2004

I can definitely recall a Looney Tunes short starring Tweety Bird in which something tragic happens to Sylvester and Tweety looks innocently at the camera saying, a la Mighty Wind, "Wha' haappened?"
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:40 PM on March 10, 2004

I remember seeing it recently, as well, which leads me to believe it's probably on the recently-released Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set... As a further thought, Warner Bros shorts were known for referencing popular songs at the time (a famous joke has Yosemite Sam shouting, "Open up that door!... you notice I didn't say Richard?" as a reference to the song "Open up that door, Richard") so if Tweety did say it, it could be a reference to the aforementioned song....
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:45 PM on March 10, 2004

In my circle it's always been "Wha happeeeen?" in a sort of dazed latino accent. No idea how it started.

By the way, Mighty Wind was kinda blah compared to Guest's previous efforts.
posted by Tubes at 2:46 PM on March 10, 2004

Best answer: I grew up in the '50s and remember the phrase as "Wha' hoppen?"—I think Mad used it quite a bit back in that era. (And cf this 1957 boat race story—the third-place finisher was the Wha Hoppen Too.) I wouldn't be too quick to assume the song is the original source; it could have been quoting an already-existing tagline.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 PM on March 10, 2004

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