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From whack +‎ a +‎ mole (small, burrowing, insect-eating mammal of the family Talpidae), from the arcade game Whac-A-Mole which involves quickly and repeatedly hitting the heads of mechanical moles with a mallet as they pop up from holes.[1] The name of the arcade game was coined in 1977 when it was first sold in the United States; the original game released in Japan in 1975 was called モグラ退治 (Mogura Taiji, literally Mole Extermination).



whack-a-mole (countable and uncountable, plural whack-a-moles)

  1. (idiomatic, chiefly Canada, US) The practice of trying to stop problems, etc., that repeatedly occur in an apparently random manner; also, the act of dealing with such matters in a piecemeal manner without achieving a complete solution.
    Trying to get rid of spam e-mails is like whack-a-mole: as soon as you delete one, another appears.
    • 2007 November, Gil Schwartz, “The Office Politic: Escape from the Job Monster”, in David Zinczenko, editor, Men’s Health, volume 22, number 9, Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 122, column 1:
      Identify a challenge. Put your shoulder into it. Make it go away. Just as it disappears, whoops, here comes another one. It's like a game of whack-a-mole. Trust me, you'll never run out of quarters.
    • 2014 November 17, Roger Cohen, “The horror! The horror! The trauma of ISIS [print version: International New York Times, 18 November 2014, page 9]”, in The New York Times[1], New York, N.Y.: The New York Times Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 10 June 2021:
      What is unbearable, in fact, is the feeling, 13 years after 9/11, that America has been chasing its tail; that, in some whack-a-mole horror show, the quashing of a jihadi enclave here only spurs the sprouting of another there; that the ideology of Al Qaeda is still reverberating through a blocked Arab world whose Sunni-Shia balance (insofar as that went) was upended by the American invasion of Iraq.
    • 2020 August 29, Rebecca Nicholson, “Tom Cruise: Another groundbreaking role for cinema’s cheerleader”, in Katharine Viner, editor, The Guardian[2], London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 16 October 2021:
      Some flew across the United States; some were planning to fly into London from Europe, though, like many of us, they could only try their best to keep up with the government’s air corridor whack-a-mole.
    • 2021 March 17, Drachinifel, 13:14 from the start, in Guadalcanal Campaign - The Big Night Battle: Night 2 (IJN 3(?) : 3 USN)[3], archived from the original on 14 July 2022:
      With power being redistributed automatically and surging through other circuits as the system tried to reroute electricity to keep things operational, various parts of the ship began to flicker internally as more and more breakers began to trip and were reset, only to trip again. Then, one of the engineers, tired of playing whack-a-mole, tied one of the more important breakers down so that it physically couldn't trip. This turned out to be a mistake, and a cascade overload crippled the ship's radar, radios, and power training on most of her guns. With no way of communicating with Washington, South Dakota simply held course whilst men in the switchboard room tried their best to reset the ship's entire electrical grid.

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  1. ^ whack-a-mole, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “whack-a-mole, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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