Green’s Dictionary of Slang

wowser n.1

[UK dial. wow, to howl like a dog, to grumble, to complain. Claimed by John Norton (1858–1916), editor of the Sydney Truth, as his coinage. However, a correspondent (5 June 1910) cited him as the popularizer but not the coiner of a term that ‘in the ordinary parlance of the proletariat ... signifies a “bald-headed, bad-breathed, bible-banging bummer, who ought to be banged with a bowser”’; Norton, as noted by Seal (1999; who declares it a furphy n., i.e. a fantasy) claimed the term was an acronym for ‘We Only Want Social Evils Righted/Rectified/Removed’]
(orig. Aus./N.Z.)

1. a puritan, a self-appointed censor, a ‘Mrs Grundy’; thus wowserdom, the world of puritanism; wowserish, puritanical; wowseristic, prudish; wowserly, puritanically.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 8 Oct. 5: Willoughby ‘Wowsers’ Worried. The ‘Talent’ get a ‘Turn’ [...] Ten young men were fined [...] for having behaved in a riotous manner on the Military Rd .
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 31 Jan. 8/2: This blatant, bowelless, bible-thumping bigot [...] this wheedling, wry-faced wowser.
[UK]Daily News 1 Apr. 4: ‘Wowser’ is a term applied by certain portions of the Australian Press to parsons of all denominations, more particularly to those who are fanatical on temperance and social evils .
[NZ]N.Z. Truth 11 Nov16 Oct. 8/3: The Wowser is, usually one who being unable to enjoy life himself bitterly resents its being thoroughly ejoyed by others.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 28 July 11/4: On behalf of the artist class there is something to be said for the art-union gamble which wowsers condemn on the ground that all gambling is sinful in the sight of the Lord [...] If the wowsers were in sympathy with art and artists, they would not protest so persistently against these shilling-show lotteries.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 15 Jan. 9/6: At which pious suggestion [...] the whole of united Wowserdom will get up and pray with an exceeding loud-mouthed jubilation.
[NZ]N.Z. Truth 9 Nov. 8/3: The little, plump, quick-eyed, Wowsering Welshman known to the world as Lloyd George.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 23 Mar. 11/6: Here in this ’ere wowser Lundon, / Wowserdom, it runs the lot— / Puritanical convulsions / Are on top, with other rot.
[NZ]N.Z. Truth July 7: Watery Wowsers Wend their Weary Winding Way through Windy Wellington.
[Aus]Truth (Melbourne) 28 Nov. 6/6: And our Government itself, Sir, /(Which are wowserily inclined) / Goes and helps these crawlin’ whiners.
[Aus]C.J. Dennis ‘A Digger’s Tale’ in Chisholm (1951) 101: An’ then I speaks uv sport, an’ tells ’er ’ow / In ’untin’ our wild Wowsers we imploy / Large packs uv Barrackers.
[Aus]Gippsland Times (Vic.) 15 Sept. 1/4: He is not cursed with wowsers, or others of that fry.
[Aus]Bulletin 13 Nov. Red Page 2/5: In Australia [...] we generalise and call [Tolstoy] a wowser.
[Aus]H. Drake-Brockman Men Without Wives I i: They have turned wowser and shut up the pubs at eleven.
Press (Canterbury) 2 Apr. 18: ‘Swag,’ ‘wowser,’ ‘sool,’ and ‘shakedown,’ words with a reckless open-air tang.
[Aus]L. Glassop We Were the Rats 85: You don’t mean to say the army has realized at last that the problem of venereal disease has to be tackled realistically despite the horrified protests of wowsers? Cripes, will the Church howl its pious head off when it hears about this!
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 124: That bloody bunch of Orangemen wowsers we had in Parliament now were anti-booze, anti-betting, and anti-protectionist — anti anything that would give a bloke a fair go.
[UK]J. Iggulden Storms of Summer 200: Don’ start preaching at me, y’old wowser!
[Aus]K. Willey Ghosts of the Big Country 163: Mr. Bryant has described himself [...] as being ‘a bit of a wowser,’ and when he called for ‘almost complete prohibition’ in the Northern Territory, various missionaries supported him.
[Aus]J. Hibberd Memoirs of an Old Bastard 152: I doubt there can be a more unsavoury mode of arousal from sleep than at the hand of a Melbourne wowser, bore, and creeping Jesus.
[Aus]P. Doyle (con. late 1950s) Amaze Your Friends (2019) 69: He didn’t drink, smoke or take drugs. Not that he was a wowser.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 235: wowser Spoilsport or puritan, objecting to alcohol, cigarettes and any other joys that it is possible to kill. Originally a prohibitionist. Possibly from British dialect word wow, to whine, acronymically identified by John Norton as ‘We Only Want Social Evils Remedied’. Promoting prohibition was wowserdom, the promoter wowserish, his or her behaviour wowserism. ANZ early C20.
[Aus]L. Redhead Peepshow [ebook] You get too close to a customer during a dance — the wowsers can say that’s prostitution, close us down.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 17 May 1/1: The everlasting insolence of the wowser brigade.
[NZ]N.Z. Truth 30 Jan. 5/1: New Zealand [...] a wowser-ridden country.
[Aus]Sport (Adelaide) 20 Dec. 7/2: The wowser parson gave a good sermon on ‘The Sport’.
[NZ]N.Z. Truth 23 Aug. 5/1: [headline] A Wowser-ridden Department.
[Aus]S. Geason Shaved Fish 3: In glorious polaroid for posterity: Margaret Cromer, wife of leading wowser politician, tête-à-tête with notorious vice figure in a Kings Cross gambling den.
[Aus](con. 1945–6) P. Doyle Devil’s Jump (2008) 78: This wowser streak is very fucking unbecoming in you, I must say.

3. a general term of abuse.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 16 June 10/2: ‘You’re a cow!’ ‘O you hog!’ ‘You’re a dirty gutter dog!’ / ‘Mister May’r!’ ‘Order! Chair!’ ‘You had better take more care!’ / ‘You’re a weary wheezing wowser!’ ‘Order! Order!’ ‘What, sir! How, sir!’ / And that’s the way we talk in Sydney Council.
[NZ]Truth (Wellington) 6 Apr. 6/5: This wicked world of wowsers and high rents.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 234: No bally wowser, mu’m [...] An Austrylian detective, mu’m.
[Aus]N. Lindsay Cautious Amorist 173: ‘You damned wowser,’ yelled Carrol.
[UK]M. Marples Public School Slang 60: Invective again may be expressed figuratively [...] wowser.
[NZ]P.L. Soljak N.Z. 115: Colloquialisms common to New Zealand and Australian English [...] wowser: spoil-sport.
[Aus]J. Hibberd Dimboola (2000) 77: aggie: Throw them all out! They are drunk and foul-mouthed. [...] mutton: What’s a wedding to a wowser?
[US](con. 1916) G. Swarthout Tin Lizzie Troop (1978) 64: Wowsers, are they?

4. a teetotaller.

[Aus]Sport (Adelaide) 21 Aug. 5/6: Alice N. makes out she is a wowser, but she can do her share .
[Aus]‘Nino Culotta’ They’re a Weird Mob (1958) 50: ‘What are wowsers?’ ‘Blokes that don’ drink.’.
[Aus] A. Savage ‘Killing Peacocks’ in Crime Factory: Hard Labour [ebook] A bloke who didn’t drink was suspect, a worse, or worse, a poofter.

In derivatives

wowserism (n.)

repressive puritanism, moralising.

[NZ]N.Z. Truth 1 Sept. 7/3: [heading] Weird Wave of Wowserism.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 29 Mar. 8/4: A spectacle so banal and stodgy that even a bubbling geyser of wowserism like the Rev. Tregear would probably treat [it] with the silence of contempt.
[NZ]Truth (Wellington) 13 Oct. 1: A wowser is a criminal, and often he is a drunkard, a sly drink-with-the-flies sort of a drunk, and unfortunately for wowserism in New Zealnd, wowsers are being found out every day.
[Aus]Canberra Times 17 Apr. 8/7: The dinkum Aussie hates to uswe a word like ‘chum’ or ‘pal’. There is a suspicion of wowserism [...] there.
C.H. Grattan Introducing Aus. 180: He has long cultivated an inverted ‘wowserism’ which I find tiresome [...] (For ‘wowserism’ read ‘Puritanism.’) .
V. Buckley Essays in Poetry 14: The kind of provincialism which we in Australia call ‘wowserism.’.
H. Mayer Press in Aus. 274: Allied with this is a widespread wowserism, shared by bishops and dustmen. [...] Wowserism and certain traits reminiscent of the anal character go together.
J. Aitken Land of Fortune 248: Yet although the six-o’clock swill is mercifully a thing of the past, there are still many traces of temperance wowserism.
D. Langmore Missionary Lives 236: While the missionaries lamented the immorality of the traders, the traders mocked the self-righteous wowserism of the missionaries.
H. Templeton All Honourable Men 144: In a nation long bedevilled by wowserism, he was reluctant to change the law concerning the drinking age.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 235: […] Promoting prohibition was wowserdom, the promoter wowserish, his or her behaviour wowserism. ANZ early C20.
Brett & Moran Ordinary People’s Politics 151: The school’s [...] suburban wowserism conflicted with her mother’s more urbane ways – she smoked, drank on occasion, and liked a bet.
Wowserland (n.)

New Zealand.

[NZ]N.Z. Truth 26 Oct. 8/3: One R.H. Harris, of Hastings, in God’s own country, has been writing ‘home’ to England detailing his impressions of New Zealand [...] His impression of Wowserland has been published in the grimsby ‘Telegraph’.
wowsery (adj.)

(Aus.) hypocritically puritanical.

[Aus]Truth (Perth) 19 Oct. 4/6: It is indeed most amusing to note how the wowsery ‘West,’ with the rest of the putrid plutish press, gives particular promience to anything and everything that might be considered damaging and damning to John Norton.
[NZ]N.Z. Parlty Debates 174 233: The Post to-night, for instance, has one of the most wowsery Tory articles that ever was written in a paper.
A.A. Holman Sport of Gods 85: He had been long described by his followers as ‘spineless,’ ‘milk-and-watery,’ and ‘wowsery’.
[Aus]W. Hornadge Ern Malley & the ‘Angry Penguins’ 16: Unfortunately, judges with an equally reactionary outlook and entirely lacking the qualifications to judge the artistic, have only too often upheld the views of their wowsery brethren.
J. Lonie Acts of Love 21: [We] sipped sweet wine in thick glass tumblers which they called 'red drink' because of Joh's [i.e. Queensland premier Johannes Bjelke-Petersen] wowsery liquor laws.

In compounds

wowser joint (n.)

a temperance hall or similar teetotal place.

[Aus]‘William Hatfield’ Ginger Murdoch 259: Ain’t a wowser joint, is it? All parlour and no bar?