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View Full Version : He was really waling/whaling/wailing on that guy!


Sailboat
02-21-2008, 11:11 AM
This one bothers me. I'm not even sure if it's slangSince I never see it used in proper written speech, I've never been sure which word to use when describing "beating on someone". The internet is no help, since most online writers will use any combination of keystrokes that strikes their fancy to spell most words. I usally see "whaling on" or "wailing on."

However, my best guess is that the real usage this comes from is wale (http://dictionary.net/wale), "to mark with stripes," probably from the same root as "weal" meaning "a streak or stripe." So, if I am correct in this assumption, the usage should be "He was waling on him good!" Well, so to speak. :)

Anyone have a different take on this?

I recognize that correcting every average user of this term is already a lost cause. I'm mostly just trying to know the correct version of the verb wale/whale/wail to settle my mind on the matter.

Sailboat/Saleboat/Shaleboat

garygnu
02-21-2008, 11:17 AM
Miriam-Webster says it's "whale"

Main Entry: whale
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): whaled; whal·ing
Etymology: origin unknown
Date: circa 1790

1 : lash, thrash
2 : to strike or hit vigorously
3 : to defeat soundly

Dr. Drake
02-21-2008, 11:39 AM
I've often wondered if it could be from Irish or Scottish Gaelic buail, to hit / beat / strike. The sense agrees exactly. In the past tense, it is bhuail, which is pronounced very similarly to Irish-English wail (but not whale; I'd have to rely on the general English w + wh merger to explain that one).

An Arky
02-21-2008, 12:13 PM
I had my ignorance fought here on that word a few months ago. garygnu has the SD.

msmith537
02-21-2008, 01:04 PM
Do people still use that term? It sounds like slang from when I was 12.

ie
"I whaled on that gay-wad for calling me a retard."

brownsfan
02-21-2008, 01:20 PM
Do people still use that term? It sounds like slang from when I was 12.

ie
"I whaled on that gay-wad for calling me a retard."

Oddly enough, I am that gay-wad.

And I'm not gay, and you are a retard. ;)

Dervorin
02-21-2008, 01:20 PM
Whaling, as far as I know, is the only correct option.

garygnu
02-21-2008, 01:48 PM
nevermind, can't read

Erik the Viking
02-21-2008, 02:20 PM
Miriam-Webster says it's "whale"

Oddly enough, American Heritage says it's "wale":

wale (wāl)
tr.v. waled, wal·ing, wales
To raise marks on (the skin), as by whipping.

Tyrrell McAllister
02-21-2008, 02:23 PM
The Onion goes with "whaling", and that's good enough for me:

Five Or Six Dudes Jump Out Of Nowhere And Just Start Whaling On This One Guy (http://theonion.com/content/node/28455)

jjimm
02-21-2008, 02:36 PM
The Onion goes with "whaling", and that's good enough for me:

Five Or Six Dudes Jump Out Of Nowhere And Just Start Whaling On This One Guy (http://theonion.com/content/node/28455)I have been looking for that article for years! It's the first Onion article I ever read, and was so well written that it got me hooked on the publication. Thank you!

garygnu
02-21-2008, 03:17 PM
Oddly enough, American Heritage says it's "wale":

wale (wāl)
tr.v. waled, wal·ing, wales
To raise marks on (the skin), as by whipping.
Actually, it has both, and so does Miriam-Webster.

brujaja
02-21-2008, 03:34 PM
Two things:

First of all, if I saw in print that someone was "whaling" on someone, I'd think he was going after him with a harpoon.

Second, is it still "whaling" when describing a musical performance? She was really whaling on that guitar.

Because that would be really weird.

HMS Irruncible
02-21-2008, 03:56 PM
In my readings, I notice that it's used as follows in sources that I usually find to be reliably correct in grammar and usage:
1) If it's beating on a person, it's "whaling on" or more commonly "whaling away on". Getting whaled on is what happens to you if you piss off a bully in a 1940's pulp novel, but I've seen it in both earlier and later periods. It's not obsolete yet.
2) If it's playing a musical instrument, it tends to be "wailing on" or just "wailing". This is a little sketchier... fan mags and rock rags always use this spelling, but they're not generally considered authorities on English usage. I would probably avoid using this one at all unless I were imitating a rock musician or fan circa 1950-1970. Again, not obsolete yet, but more prevalent among the pompadour set.

msmith537
02-21-2008, 04:20 PM
Oddly enough, I am that gay-wad.

And I'm not gay, and you are a retard. ;)


Dude...it's not my fault you were a spazoid. Go eat your boogers or something.

Sailboat
02-21-2008, 06:03 PM
Merriam-Webster also has this entry:


Main Entry: wale
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): waled; wal·ing
Date: 15th century

: to mark (as the skin) with welts

I submit that if we're using it in the slang sense of "beating," the "raise welts on the skin" form is probably more true to the sense of what we're getting at than the "large marine mammal" form.

I'll speculate that "whale" acquired the meaning "to beat" through a descriptivist reading of popular literature, which was misspelling "wale," and became cemented over time.

However, I'm unconvinced. I'm aware of the dangers of folk etymology and making assumptions. I don't think we have a definitive answer yet; there may very well not be one.

Sailboat

Princhester
02-21-2008, 08:17 PM
So beating up a Japanese guy on a ship currently occupied in hunting in the southern ocean because you don't like his singing is waling on a whaler wailing?

Mister Rik
02-21-2008, 08:48 PM
I have been looking for that article for years! It's the first Onion article I ever read, and was so well written that it got me hooked on the publication. Thank you!
D'oh! I was just about to post the same damn thing. I hadn't been able to find it either.

brujaja
02-21-2008, 09:33 PM
Again, not obsolete yet, but more prevalent among the pompadour set.

Ouch.

Freddy the Pig
02-21-2008, 09:34 PM
That Onion article is the greatest story about whaling since Moby Dick. Sadly enough, it was also the first thing I thought of when I saw the thread title.

Mister Rik
02-21-2008, 09:44 PM
If it's playing a musical instrument, it tends to be "wailing on" or just "wailing". This is a little sketchier... fan mags and rock rags always use this spelling, but they're not generally considered authorities on English usage. I would probably avoid using this one at all unless I were imitating a rock musician or fan circa 1950-1970. Again, not obsolete yet, but more prevalent among the pompadour set.
"Wailing" has been mostly replaced with "screaming", which means pretty much the same thing. Also, it's the instrument that is "wailing" or "screaming", not the player (unless the instrument is a human voice).

aldiboronti
02-22-2008, 01:10 AM
From the OED:

Whale, v2

[Of obscure origin. Commonly regarded as a spelling of WALE v.1, but there are difficulties of form, chronology, and meaning. Perhaps orig. = to thrash with a whalebone whip (see WHALEBONE 3b).]

1. trans. To beat, flog, thrash.
1790 GROSE Prov. Gloss. (ed. 2), Whale, to beat with a horsewhip or pliant stick. 1801 G. HANGER Life II. 162 Whaleing a gentleman is but a vulgar revenge. 1884 ‘MARK TWAIN’ Huck. Finn iii, He used to always whale me when he was sober and could get his hands on me.

2. transf. intr. To do something implied by the context continuously or vehemently.
a1852 F. M. WHITCHER Widow Bedott Papers (1883) vi. 67 You remember that one that come round a spell ago a whalin' away about human rights. 1886 Harper's Mag. July 322/1 In tones of wrath..he whaled it at his opponent throughout the fifteen minutes alloted to him. 1897 BARRÈRE & LELAND Dict. Slang, To whale away, (Amer.), to preach, talk, or lecture away continuously or vehemently. 1908 H. DAY King Spruce xxiv, You don't think I've whaled up here..to..talk about women, do you? 1915 Morning Post 1 June 4/4 They..snatched these rifles up, and whaled away at our chaps.

WALE, v1, referred to in the etymology, is a Scottish and Northern English dialect word meaning to select, to choose, to pick out.

HMS Irruncible
02-22-2008, 06:41 AM
Also, it's the instrument that is "wailing" or "screaming", not the player (unless the instrument is a human voice).
In your presriptive opinion. In actual usage, it is almost universally "He was wailing on that guitar" or "he was wailing on that solo." Nobody ever claims that the guitar was wailing on that solo.

BMalion
02-22-2008, 07:31 AM
Wale, that's the whole nine yards.

guizot
02-22-2008, 08:36 AM
This one bothers me. I'm not even sure if it's slangYes, it's slang. That was the whole point of the Onion article. It's a word used only in a certain community, in informal situations. But slang words still have etymology. Often, though, they have more than one spelling.

brujaja
02-22-2008, 10:45 AM
In your presriptive opinion. In actual usage, it is almost universally "He was wailing on that guitar" or "he was wailing on that solo." Nobody ever claims that the guitar was wailing on that solo.

Redeemed. ;)

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