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I found the following headline in today’s (May 11) New York Times:

“Triple whammy of good news led by Coronavirus Hopes catapult Dow more than 900 points.”

I was under impression that the usage of “whammy” is limited to bad news. For example, Oxford Advanced learners English Dictionary defines “whammy as:

an unpleasant situation with an event that causes problems for somebody or something.

Likewise, Cambridge online English Dictionary defines “whammy” as:

a magical spell or power that causes someone to have a difficult or unpleasant time.

Can “whammy” be used for good news, like a prediction of a jump in the stock market?

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    A word as odd as "Whammy" can be made to suit almost whatever need arises. I've heard it used to describe a magical spell being caste. It should come from Wham which would imply the impact from a blow. This indicates surprise which could be unpleasant or pleasant. – Elliot May 18 '20 at 21:42
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    It's bad news if you've shorted the market. – Hot Licks May 18 '20 at 21:44
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    wham : "used to express the idea of a sudden, dramatic, and decisive occurrence." whammy : "from the noun wham + -y" - "a̶n̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶o̶w̶e̶r̶f̶u̶l̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶u̶n̶p̶l̶e̶a̶s̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶e̶f̶f̶e̶c̶t̶;̶ a blow" (the 'whammy' is a play on words, the 'blow' is aimed at the effects COVID-19 has had on society) – Mazura May 19 '20 at 6:19
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    Notice how it's a "whammy of good news". That extra wording, esp. in a headline, proves that whammy's are not normally good. If it was bad news, it would simply be a whammy (as in SvenYarga's answer's first quote, item 2). – Owen Reynolds May 19 '20 at 13:15
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The baseline meaning of whammy is indeed negative—or at least sinister and quasi-supernatural. From The American Heritage Dictionary of English, fifth edition (2010):

whammy n. pl. -mies Slang 1. A supernatural spell for subduing an adversary; a hex: put the whammy on someone. 2. A serious or devastating setback: "The triple whammy: government cuts, declining corporate giving, and less favorable tax laws" (New York Times). {Perhaps < WHAM}

Conveniently, the example that AHDEL gives for whammy in the sense of "a serious or devastating setback" not only uses the form "triple whammy" but also comes from the New York Times. Of course, AHDEL's example comes from no later than 2010—a period when the newspaper of record had a few more copy editors on its staff.

Barbara Kipfer & Robert Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang, fourth edition (2007) offers definitions of whammy, double whammy, and triple whammy that make for an interesting comparison (presented here in ascending numerical order):

whammy, the n phr The evil eye; a crippling curse; HEX, the Indian Sign : with a whammy of ordinary indebtedness over his head [undated quotation from Robert Ruark] {1932+; origin unknown; popularized in the comic strip "Li'l Abner" by Al Capp, beginning in 1941, where a character named Evil-Eye Fleegle can paralyze with a stare; the dated example is spelled wami}

double whammy n phr A two-part or two-pronged difficulty; a dual disadvantage : the double-whammy of steep home prices and steeper interest rates [undated citation from Washingtonian magazine] (1940s+)

triple whammy n phr A three-part attack, difficulty, threat, etc : Triple Whammy on the Farm [undated citation from Newsweek magazine] (1940s+)

Historically, then, the normal sense of whammy is as Yoichi Oishi understood it: negative and harmful. The earliest match for "whammy" that an Elephind newspaper database search turns up is from "Moore's Homer Paces Giants; Pirates Win," in an Associated Press news article reprinted in the [Urbana, Illinois] Daily Illini (July 31, 1938):

The Pittsburgh Pirates officially ended their Brooklyn "whammy." Landing on a pair of pitchers for 15 hits, they trampled the Dodgers, 9 to 2, and for the first time this year showed an edge over the Brooklyns in the season's play.

The suggestion here is that the Pirates had overcome a season-long string of bad games (or bad luck) against the Dodgers. Indeed, the headline for this same account in the Santa Cruz [California] Sentinel (July 31, 1938) is titled "Pirates Shake Jinx." And a fuller account of the game in the San Bernardino [California] Sun explains the nature of this particular "whammy":

Up to yesterday, Brooklyn was the only club in the league boasting an edge over the league-leading Bucs.

That is, Pittsburgh had been having trouble beating Brooklyn despite having a much better overall season record (57 wins and 31 losses) that the Dodgers did (41 wins and 49 losses).

Whammy also appears in sports articles from July 26, 1939 (baseball, in a quotation from Cincinnati Reds traveling secretary Gabe Paul), August 3, 1939 (baseball), and October 19, 1939 (horse racing).

Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (1989) confirms the strong early association between "whammy" and baseball, with this entry:

whammy n. A jinx. "Nearly every player in the game engages in some little practice which he believes will bring him good luck or put the whammy on the other fellow. (American Legion Monthly, February 1937, from an article by Jim Hurley entitled "Putting the Whammy on 'Em")[.] Dizzy Dean's definition [of whammy]: "Hoo-doo. That's what ol' Diz used to have on all them batters in the national league when I was the world champion player." Ety[mology] From WAMI.

Dickson offers this entry for wami:

wami n./arch. A curse. "The breaks have been on us ever since the bell rang. Got a wami I guess."—player using baseballese in William G. Brandt's October 1932 article in Baseball magazine.Wami appears to have evolved into WHAMMY.

In the absence of other contemporaneous instances of wami, however (which I have not been able to find), we must take on faith the accuracy and legitimacy of Brandt's spelling of the term he heard these 1932 ballplayers using.

An Elephind newspaper database returns 87 matches for "triple whammy" over the period 1950–2011. The vast majority of these matches involve quite negative whammies—as you'd expect of a phrase that, to most people, means "triple jinx" or "triple hex" or "triple curse." For example, an article from October 3, 1974, refers to a "triple whammy" of "a wet spring, dry summer and early frosts." Another, from March 24, 1976, cites "the 'triple whammy' of the oil embargo, the auto industry slump and the general recession." Another, from September 28, 1982, mentions "a triple whammy of debt, low prices and high interest rates." One from February 8, 1986, has as its triple whammy "incarceration, the social stigma of homosexuality and the stigma of a feared fatal disease." And one from a Reuters story titled "Security Benefits Despite Tighter Bush Budget," in the Columbia [University, New York] Spectator (January 22, 2003) has this:

He [White House budget director Mitch Daniel] blamed what he called a "triple whammy"—the recession and the sell-off in the stock market, the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, and the war on terrorism, which has cost more than $100 billion so far.

Nevertheless, at least one match is quite positive in its application. It appears in "Plan to Ease L.A. Rush-Hour Traffic Congestion Unveiled," in the San Bernardino [California] Sun (June 19, 1987), in the context of a quotation from then–Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mayor Tom Bradley has unveiled a package of traffic reduction measures designed to punish those who contribute to rush-hour congestion. "This plan has the potential of a triple whammy," Bradley said Thursday.

"The less traffic snarls we all sit in, the less exhaust we put in the air and the more energy we save."

So Bradley's three whammies consist of less time stuck in traffic jams, less pollution, and less wasted fuel. That sounds like a win-win-win to me.


Conclusion

The available evidence from newspapers of the past 70 years strongly supports Yoichi Oishi's sense that triple whammy—like double whammy and single whammy—generally refers to something negative, harmful, or problematic. Nevertheless, in some instances, the term seems intended to convey essentially the opposite sense—as a harmonic convergence of beneficent factors or effects. Whether such instances reflect a simple misunderstanding of predominant usage by the relatively few people who deploy the expression in this against-the-grain way or whether it is merely an unremarkable instance of the truism that—in a world full of Humpty-Dumpties—every phrase means only whatever each individual Humpty-Dumpty intends for it to mean is a philosophical question that most participants at this site will have long since resolved to their own satisfaction.

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    I think it is just an idiomatic usage of terms that generally conveys negative meanings but are occasionally used with emphasis for positive ones. Bad for instance: “Many people might have the impression that the slang usage of bad to mean its opposite, "excellent," is a recent innovation of African American Vernacular English, but parallels to it are found in language use throughout the Caribbean, the "good" use of bad has been recorded for over a century. The first known example dates from 1897.” there is a word for this usage but I can’t remember it. – user 66974 May 19 '20 at 4:58
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Well, it’s always possible to find another example:

This really is a double whammy of the good variety.

Lake The Posts (dead link) via COCA

Also:

The Double Whammy (in a Good Way) for Amazon Sales

And from a different type of article:

A Double Whammy to Treat Bladder Cancer

Looking through COCA, it’s pretty clear that it’s extremely rare to see whammy used positively (I only found the one example, and possibly a second one there, though it was either positive or negative depending on your political views).

The fact that people often specify that the whammy is good also indicates that it’s not very widespread.

One Wiktionary user gives some more examples and suggests that there might be some dialectical differences to this, but I’m not convinced.

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Yes, whammy is sometimes used to refer to a positive event as noted by Fowler's Concise Dictionary of Modern English Usage:

By a strage reversal of meaning double whammy is also sometimes used to mean the polar opposite, i.e. double stroke of luck as in: the double whammy of Best Film and Outlandish British Film - OEC 2011.

And from Wiktionary

Whammy:

(by extension, informal) a twofold boon; a series of two events that cause positive effects.

Also Green’s Dictionary of Slang notes a positive usage of whammy:

  1. spiritual or positive force.

    • 1968 [US] T. Wolfe Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1969) 34: A tape drones on in a weird voice, full of Ouija-whammy: ‘. . . the blissful counterstroke . . . a considerable new message.’
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Its usually negative. However, the phrases "double whammy" and "triple whammy" are very common, and can have a positive meaning.

double whammy (plural double whammies)

  1. (informal) a twofold blow or setback; a series of two events that cause adverse effects

  2. (by extension, informal) a twofold boon; a series of two events that cause positive effects

Related terms

triple whammy

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