'Womp Womp' Is All Over the Comments on TikTok, but What Does the Phrase Mean?


Dec. 20 2023, Published 12:01 p.m. ET

A man in a green shirt blowing a trombone.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • "Womp Womp" is an onomatopoeia that refers to the sound of a sad trombone.
  • The sad trombone sound effect has been around for decades and refers to a trombone descending from a high note to a lower note to signify something disappointing.
  • The sound is meant for comedic situations and can come across as insensitive if used inappropriately.
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Over time, TikTok and its users have become so proficient at churning out new words and phrases that being on the platform can sometimes feel like speaking another language altogether. There are acronyms, slang terms, and phrases that don't really have any meaning outside of TikTok.

The latest of these phrases that has some TikTok users confused is "Womp Womp," a phrase that appears frequently in the comments beneath videos, and sometimes shows up in the videos themselves. At first glance, the phrase seems nonsense, but it's designed to be descriptive.

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A man in Colombia playing a trombone.
Source: Getty Images

What does 'Womp Womp' mean on TikTok?

If you've seen the phrases "Womp Womp," "Wamp Wamp," or "Sad Trombone" show up on your feed in 2023, you should know that all of these phrases mean the same thing. They're meant to stand in for the sound of a trombone slowly descending, a noise that is usually meant to sound deflating or represent something sad happening. The noise is typically associated with failure or disappointment and is usually meant to be a comic note.

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The sound and the phrases that it's associated with date back to the early 1900s, but its exact origins remain unclear. Since the very beginning, though, the sound has been used to signify failure or devastation. Now, TikTok has adopted it for videos where individual users think it's appropriate.

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Sad trombone noises definitely didn't start on TikTok.

The noise of the sad trombone descending down a chromatic scale definitely didn't start its life on the internet with TikTok. Since the earliest days of memes, sad trombone and other associated sounds have been used for one common purpose. Few things have been more steady or constant over the years than the sad trombone and what it signifies to the public. Over the years, numerous videos have gone viral where the sound has been expertly deployed.

The phrase has become politically controversial.

In the modern era of politics, even phrases can be political. Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, appeared on Fox News in 2018 to discuss the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their families at the southern border. When Corey was being told a story about a child with Down Syndrome who had been separated from her parents, he interrupted with a "Womp Womp."

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Needless to say, that wasn't an appropriate use of the phrase, which is typically used in more lighthearted or low-stakes situations. Corey was accused of lacking any compassion for the child and the broader situation unfolding at the southern border. Unfortunately, it seems likely that Corey's decision to use the term was intentional.

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