Veeblefetzer is a word usually used facetiously as a placeholder name for any obscure or complicated object or mechanism, such as automobile parts, computer code and model railroad equipment.
A 19th-century Yiddish slang word with limited usage is generally accepted as the origin. In German, the verb weben means to "weave", while fetzen means to "rip" or "shred". Textile mills of that period were crammed with loud, complicated and wildly active machinery.
During the 1940s, the inventor Alfred J. Gross, a pioneer of mobile communications, made an association of the word with modern technology. Gross invented the walkie-talkie and developed cordless remote telephone signaling (the precursor to the pager). He was the father of Citizens' Band radio, and for his "handle" he used the pseudonym "Phineas Thadeus Veeblefetzer".
A few years later, Harvey Kurtzman brought the word into popular usage in his comic book Mad. Over time, the word became a recurring running gag or catchphrase in the magazine, appearing in many articles by different authors. In Wallace Wood's parody, "Smilin' Melvin", in Mad 7 (October-November 1953), the airplane mechanic Thatstuff advises Smilin' Melvin not to "push down on the veeble-fetzer switch that starts the motor." Will Elder's parody, "Frank N. Stein", was "set in the little European town of Veeblefetzer" in Mad 8 (December 1953). In the Kurtzman and Elder satire of the comic strip Gasoline Alley, titled "Gasoline Valley!", in Mad 15 (September 1954), the character Skizziks opens a shop to repair cracked veeblefetzers. In subsequent issues, Kurtzman used the word for spoofs of big business, with the fictitious corporation "North American Veeblefetzer" featured in satires of in-house company newsletters, corporate annual reports and more.
Brutus Thornapple's boss in The Born Loser comic strip is Mr. Veeblefester, an obvious derivative.
The word has been mentioned in films such as Mad Monster Party? (1966), The Magnificent Major (1978), and Reel Horror (1985), and on television's Boardwalk Empire (2011) and Space Ghost Coast to Coast (1998).
- Technology Dictionary
- Boardwalk Empire episode 17, "Gimcrack & Bunkum"
- Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode 62, "Warren"