We Wuz Robbed.

I’ve always been fond of the expression “We wuz robbed” (or, if you’re fond of official spelling, “We was robbed”), and I’m pleased to learn its origin via this post from the New England Historical Society (no author named):

Jack Sharkey not only won the world heavyweight championship but was responsible for the classic sports expression: We wuz robbed. […] He was born Joseph Paul Zukauskas on Oct. 26, 1902, in Binghamton, N.Y., the son of Lithuanian immigrants. As a young boy his family moved to Boston.

He ran away from home as a teenager. […] He took up boxing in the navy, where he won 38 fights. His ship’s home port was Boston, and he fought for pay on liberty in the city. He was told he couldn’t fight under the name Joseph Zukauskas, so he chose the names of his boxing idols: Jack Dempsey and Tom Sharkey. By the time Sharkey was honorably discharged, he was earning write-ups in the Boston newspapers and earning good money for boxing. […]

In 1930 he lost a fight for the vacant heavyweight championship to Max Schmeling on a foul. The referee ruled he hit Schmeling below the belt. Sharkey described Schmeling as ‘a methodical, cruel, terrific puncher.’ Two years later, they faced each other again, and Sharkey was declared the winner though Schmeling seemed to have outboxed him. After the match, Schmeling’s manager, Joe Jacobs, uttered those classic words, “We wuz robbed.”

(“Zukauskas” should, of course, properly be Žukauskas, which is clearly related to Polish Żukowski and Russian Zhukovsky — see the table here.) In retirement, when he pursued his love of fly fishing, he came up with another memorable line:

He and Ted Williams teamed up to promote the sport at sporting shows. He was asked at one show whether he preferred fishing to boxing. “It doesn’t pay as much,” he replied, “but then the fish don’t hit back.”

Thanks, Trevor!


  1. This is great! Thanks for this post!

  2. Dan Milton says

    Following a trail from “table here” through Wikipedia and Wiktionary, I learn the name (and the more common “Zhukov”) come “from various toponyms derived from żuk (“beetle”) +‎ -ski, e.g. Żukowo, Żuków.”
    Sounds plausible but a bit surprising. Can anyone comment?

  3. The ‘beetle’ origin is accurate (and I should have mentioned it in the post), but it does seem odd, and I’ve wondered about how it came to be such a common surname.

  4. Cf. cartoon-come-to-life Tony Galento: “Never hoid of him [Shakespeare]… What’s he, one of those foreign heavyweights? I’ll moida da bum.”

  5. Zhuk was borrowed into Hebrew as dzhuk ‘cockroach’. My mother had a cockroach living in her bathroom whom she named Marshal Zhukov.

  6. Your mother could tell individual cockroaches apart?!

    From the expert, it was Schmeling’s manager, Joe Jacobs, who said the words not Zhukauskas. So it wasn’t him who came up with the line.

  7. D.O.: There was only one, apparently. I don’t think she went as far as putting a ribbon around its neck.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Käfer, Kefer, Kever, Keever as surnames.

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    Ralph Keyes’ “The Quote Verifier” says (sez?) of the attribution to Jacobs that it “could be true,” which sounds a bit skeptical. Keyes says it’s mentioned in a 1940 obit of Jacobs but not (more precisely, not in haec verba) in contemporaneous newspaper coverage of the fight. I found in the google books corpus some attributions to Jacobs in 1937 magazine stories and it does seem to be the case that the relevant sense is easy to find beginning a few years after 1932 and hard to find before that date.

  10. CuConnacht says

    Nikita Khrushchev’s family name means some specific kind if beetle, if I recall correctly.

  11. Yes, хрущ ‘cockchafer; May beetle.’

  12. Nicetas Junebug!

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