I'm British, I'd like some assistance understanding the meaning of the American idiom "womp womp" in this context:

PETKANAS: “I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage…”

LEWANDOWSKI: “Womp womp.”

PETKANAS: “Did you just say ‘womp womp’ to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome being taken from her mother? How dare you?”

Source: Washington Post, Corey ‘Womp-Womp’ Lewandowski invited back on Fox News for more nonsense, 20 June 2018

I've found these posts which seem to be related:

They refer to the trombone "womp womp womp womp" noise as shown in this video, which is also used here in the UK to indicate a joke has fallen flat - the allusion (as I understand it) is to the music played by a circus band after a clown does a pratfall.

I don't understand it in the context it's being used above; there does not seem to be a joke being made, so it can't that a joke has fallen flat. It seems to be a different meaning, but I'm not clear what that meaning is.

What meaning is the speaker trying to convey?


(I also wondered if it was the Family Fortunes "that's the wrong answer" buzzer noise, but that doesn't seem sensible in context either, and it's not so much of a "womp womp" noise as a "rrrr rrrr").

  • 9
    Think of many (earlier) sitcoms where, when something sort of sad happens (intended to make the canned audience go, “Awwwww”), a descending “womp-woooomp” sound would be played to pseudo-humorously say, “Aww, isn’t this just such a pity for poor X (but also just a little bit funny still, because it’s still a sitcom)?”. That’s the kind of feeling I’m getting from Lewandowski’s reply: he’s treating the situation as though it were a carefully set-up sort-of-sad element in an otherwise humorous show, which obviously it isn’t. Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 9:33
  • 6
    I sort of agree with Janus, if you listen to the excerpt, the "womp" "womp" sound was said in a bitter, ironic tone of voice. It was uttered almost absentmindedly as if he were saying to himself "Here we go. Now "Fake News is pulling out the "helpless disabled immigrant child card"...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 11:32
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    This could easily be rendered as "wah, wah", or the fail trumpet or the sad trombone, or as "I don't really care, do u?".
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 12:37
  • 1
    A good "sad trombone" illustration here: youtube.com/watch?v=tKdcjJoXeEY Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 14:57
  • The Laurel and Hardy theme tune has equally been used to indicate comedy in the moment of a mishap. youtube.com/watch?v=uwhxc3OCBjc - an extremely catchy tune that you will undoubtedly have heard...
    – Manhatton
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 20:21

9 Answers 9


Womp womp is an onomatopaeic approximation of a brief, chromatically descending trombone phrase dating from the days of Vaudeville theater indicating either mock sympathy for the victim of a slapstick stunt or a joke or anecdote which the audience failed to find humorous:

Sometimes referred to as “sad trombone,” “loser horns,” or, more technically, “chromatic descending ‘wah,’” this sound effect dates back to early 1900s vaudeville. It was carried over into radio and then television.

The opposite, still used, say, in late night talk shows with a live band, is a brief roll on a snare drum for a well received joke, comment, or anecdote where energetic laughter isn’t the expected response. “Loser horn” comes from its use in game shows, such as The Price is Right. It is also frequently used in the animated series Archer.There, it’s usually used to mock a character’s complaint about something or to make light of some expression of self-pity.

It is usually vocalized with /w/ followed by a nasalized vowel, either /ɑ̃/ or /ɔ̃/, and may or may not be terminated with the unvoiced bilabial stop /p/. However pronounced, it does not rhyme with romp, but you’d have better luck with French champs.

I won’t begin to guess what Lewandowsky meant, but you can tell by the shocked, enraged response how it was received.

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    A better link might be: sadtrombone.com Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 20:49
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    Isn't Sad Trombone usually 4 descending notes, not 2?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 21:58
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    I think you should change the "...may or may not be terminated by..." to, "...almost never terminated by..." I have never once heard someone say, "Womp, womp," in real life in this context.
    – John Doe
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 23:02
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    @T.E.D. I've always heard (and used) 2, at least in speech. More like "wonh-wohn" or "wah-wah" than "womp-womp", but I recognized what it was. Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 23:10
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    @HopelessN00b - Still not understanding. We're talking about this sound, right? 4 descending notes, the last one held out? How is "Womp, womp" any kind of approximation of that?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 2:35

When I first read about the alleged joke, I charitably assumed that it meant, “What an embarrassing mistake by the agency. They sure failed this time.” While that is an alternative possible meaning of womp-womp, it is not, according to Lewandowski himself, what he meant.

In his words, “I mocked a liberal who attempted to politicize children as opposed to discussing the real issue [....]”¹ He saw a difference between callousness to a small, mentally-disabled child from another country who had just been separated from her mother and locked in a cage with strangers, and mocking anyone who cared about her story, which he thought was a distraction from “the real issue.” Most other commenters, including Petkanas, did not.

¹ Although a political fact-check would be beyond the scope of this site, be aware that some other claims in the tweet are false.

  • [Comments removed.] Answers are answers. If you want to discuss an answer, please do it in chat.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 8:18

It is an expression that maps to somewhere on the spectrum between casual sympathy to straight mockery over inconveniences.

Example for casual sympathy:

Ben: "Steve overwrote my changes, so I need to re-add them."

Dan: "Womp womp. That's no bueno."

It can also be used reflexively.

Jessica: "Oh no, I spilled milk all over the floor. Womp womp!"

Example for mockery:

Albert accidentally drops his hot dog in the camp fire

Jeff seeing Albert drop his hot dog: "Womp womp! What a klutz!"

It can be used reflexively for mockery also.

KarlG mentioned the cartoon Archer, and I agree that that's a good source to get a feel for how the expression is used. If I could remember specific episodes, I would post them here.


I think this definition by UD explains its usage:


  • A lighthearted reaction upon receiving disappointing news of some sort. Usually something that isn't a particularly a big deal, esp. when it primarily affects someone else - sort of a mild schadenfreude. Sometimes doubled or tripled, and possibly said in a sing-songy voice for added comedic effect to imitate a muted trumpet, which is how the meme originated.
  • 3
    I have never heard a singular "womp" in isolation - in my experience, they always come in multiples. Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 16:41
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    If you say "ope" because you're from the Midwest, you can also do a single wamp.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 20:15

It's a noise usually made in old cartoons to indicate someone had done something embarrassingly dumb, or failed at something, or whatever they did backfired on them (first womp is a higher frequency sound than the second womp).

It can also mean a lighthearted reaction upon receiving disappointing news of some sort. As in:

Henry: Oh! John, someone has stolen your money at your shop.

John: Womp womp! Where were you at the time?

  • For what it's worth, Luke Skywalker said he used to hunt "womp-rats" on his home planet Tatooine in the original "Star Wars" movie (the one now numbered IV). Womp-rats were large (2 meter) ominvorous rodent-like anmials; you can find out more about them on the Wookiepedia website.
    – tautophile
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 19:42
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    Please cite what appears to be a quote from UD.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 20:21
  • @tautophile Completely different thing. 'Womp-rats' sounds like 'womp'. The 'womp' here is someone's comically bad mangling of the sound 'wahh wahhh' or 'wohn wohhn'.
    – lly
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 9:07

In the context of the question, Corey Lewandowski later said that his intent was to "mock a liberal who attempted to politicize children as opposed to discussing the real issue."

An article in GQ gives the following analysis, in which they explain how the term is used:

First of all, this defense makes no sense because that's neither how nor when someone uses "womp womp." It's sarcastic pity, an onomatopoeia for "sucks to be you." So either Lewandowski said it without knowing what it meant, or he's backpedalling now.


Translated version:

PETKANAS: “Here is something very sad. I'm obviously about to claim that it is at least partly your fault."

LEWANDOWSKI: “I will mock your blatant attempt to trade politically on someone's tradgedy, so we don't have to talk about who's fault that tradgedy is, by making the noise you would hear at the pratfall in a children's play.”

PETKANAS: “And I will pretend to think that you are mocking the tradgedy itself! Ha ha! You lose, you heartless bastard.”

Note that the specific purpose of the "womp womp" is to point out that Petkanas is putting on a show, and to insult the quality of his performance.

I'm sure Lewandowski knows that TV news is no place for that kind of subtlety, but he didn't spend a lot of time thinking about his response, made a mistake, and lost the exchange.


"Womp-womp" is a way to mock someone. When done to a comedian whose joke has just fallen flat, the band is mocking the comedian, hoping to draw a laugh from the crowd anyway. Saying "womp-womp" when someone has just told you that a person with Down's Syndrome was put into a cage is mocking the subject of the report for A) having Down's syndrome, B) being put into a cage, or C) both. Think of it as musically saying "Too bad!" while meaning the exact opposite.

  • Or D) Nothing. He was obviously inhumanly unmoved by the girl's plight and is rightfully suffering lost work for that (assuming it was genuine), but he was patently mocking the Democrat talking head Zac Petkanas for his hamfisted effort at ignoring the policy debate to tell a human interest story, the veracity of which hasn't been supported in the first dozen or so reports Google brings up.
    – lly
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 9:01

To add to the existing answers, I believe I've found a source for how/why it's widely known and where Corey Lewandowski might have gotten it from. The "womp womp" or "womp womp womp womp" sound affect seems to be part of whatever sound effects and music library is widely used in making lots of the amateur/low-budget kids videos on YouTube, and probably ships as part of the standard effects library in some popular video production application.

It seems plausible that the same sound effects library is used in lots of right-wing political videos on YouTube, so that anyone spending their time watching that stuff would be familiar with it. And while I wouldn't have thought to onomatopaeicize the sound as "womp", kids seem to do so naturally.

  • Currently, this doesn't add anything concrete which the other answers haven't already addressed. That the sound effect "...seems to be part of whatever sound effects and music library is widely used" is just a consequence of it "dat[ing] back to early 1900s vaudeville ... [and being] carried over into radio and then television." (This quote is taken from the top scored answer, which was also posted a year earlier.) Your idea that the interviewee could be familiar with the sound effect as a result of being immersed in "right-wing political videos" (continued) Commented Feb 28 at 7:29
  • could be an original contribution, but would be better if backed up by references rather than speculation. "Probably" and "it seems plausible" are indicators of an opinion-based answer in need of citations. Do you have a source, or some quantitative data, supporting the implications that the sound effect is used disproportionally often in "right-wing political videos," and, if so, that it was a connection which the speaker intended to make? Commented Feb 28 at 7:33
  • This isn't intended as criticism of your answer: I'm just suggesting it could be made more effective (and maybe higher scoring...) with something to back it up. Commented Feb 28 at 7:36

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