- whisker (n.)
- "hair of a man's face" (usually plural), c. 1600, originally a playful formation, from Middle English wisker "anything that whisks or sweeps" (early 15c.), agent noun from whisk (v.). In reference to animal lip hair, recorded from 1670s. Related: Whiskered; whiskers.
- whiskey (n.)
- 1715, from Gaelic uisge beatha "whisky," literally "water of life," from Old Irish uisce "water" (from PIE *ud-skio-, suffixed form of root *wed- (1) "water; wet") + bethu "life" (from PIE *gwi-wo-tut-, suffixed form of *gwi-wo-, from root *gwei- "to live").
According to Barnhart, the Gaelic is probably a loan-translation of Medieval Latin aqua vitae, which had been applied to intoxicating drinks since early 14c. (compare French eau de vie "brandy"). Other early spellings in English include usquebea (1706) and iskie bae (1580s). In Ireland and Scotland obtained from malt; in the U.S. commonly made from corn or rye. Spelling distinction between Scotch whisky and Irish and American whiskey is a 19c. innovation. Whisky sour is recorded from 1889.
- whisky (n.)
- see whiskey.
- whisper (v.)
- Old English hwisprian "speak very softly, murmur" (only in a Northumbrian gloss for Latin murmurare), from Proto-Germanic *hwis- (source also of Middle Dutch wispelen, Old High German hwispalon, German wispeln, wispern, Old Norse hviskra "to whisper"), from PIE *kwei- "to hiss, whistle," imitative. Transitive sense is from 1560s. Related: Whispered; whispering. An alternative verb, now obsolete, was whister (late 14c., from Old English hwæstrian), and Middle English had whistringe grucchere "a slanderer."
- whisper (n.)
- 1590s, from whisper (v.).
- whispering (n.)
- Old English hwisprung, verbal noun from hwisprian (see whisper (v.)).
- whist (n.)
- card game for four, 1660s, alteration of whisk, name of a kind of card game, alluded to as early as 1520s, perhaps so called from the notion of "whisking" up cards after each trick, and thus from whisk (v.). Altered perhaps on assumption that the word was an interjection invoking silence, by influence of whist "silent" (15c.).
- whistle (v.)
- Old English hwistlian "to whistle," from Proto-Germanic *hwis-, of imitative origin (source also of Old Norse hvisla "to whisper," Danish hvisle "to hiss;" see whisper (v.)). Used also in Middle English of the hissing of serpents; in 17c. it also could mean "whisper." Transitive use from late 15c. Related: Whistled; whistling. At public events, often an expression of support or encouragement in U.S., but often derisive in Britain. To whistle for (with small prospect of getting) is perhaps from nautical whistling for a wind, an old sailor's superstition during a calm. "Such men will not whistle during a storm" [Century Dictionary]. To whistle "Dixie" is from 1940.
- whistle (n.)
- "tubular musical instrument sounded by blowing," Old English hwistle (see whistle (v.)). Meaning "sound formed by pursing the lips and blowing" is from mid-15c. To wet one's whistle "take a drink" (late 14c.) originally may have referred to pipes, or be an allusion to the throat as a sort of pipe. Phrase clean as a whistle is recorded from 1878. Railroad whistle-stop (at which trains stop only if the engineer hears a signal from the station) is recorded from 1934.
- whistleblower (n.)
- also whistle-blower, 1963 in the figurative sense, American English, from whistle (n.) as something sounded in an alert + agent noun from blow (v.1).
- whistler (n.)
- Old English hwistlere "piper," literally "whistler," agent noun from hwistlian (see whistle (v.)).
- whistling (n.)
- Old English hwistlung, verbal noun from hwistlian (see whistle (v.)).
- whit (n.)
- "smallest particle," 1520s, from na whit "no amount" (c. 1200), from Old English nan wiht, from wiht "amount," originally "person, human being" (see wight).
- white (adj.)
- Old English hwit "bright, radiant; clear, fair," also as a noun (see separate entry), from Proto-Germanic *hwitaz (source also of Old Saxon and Old Frisian hwit, Old Norse hvitr, Dutch wit, Old High German hwiz, German weiß, Gothic hveits), from PIE *kweid-o-, suffixed form of root *kweit- "white; to shine" (source also of Sanskrit svetah "white;" Old Church Slavonic sviteti "to shine," svetu "light;" Lithuanian šviesti "to shine," svaityti "to brighten").
As a surname, originally with reference to fair hair or complexion, it is one of the oldest in English, being well-established before the Conquest. Meaning "morally pure" was in Old English. Association with royalist causes is late 18c. Slang sense of "honorable, fair" is 1877, American English; in Middle English it meant "gracious, friendly, favorable." The racial sense "of those races (chiefly European or of European extraction) characterized by light complexion" is recorded from c. 1600; meaning "characteristic of or pertaining to white people" is from 1852, American English. White supremacy attested from 1868, American English [John H. Van Evrie, M.D., "White Supremacy and Negro Subordination," New York, 1868]; white flight is from 1966, American English.
White way "brightly illuminated street in a big city" is from 1908. White flag of truce or surrender is from c. 1600. White lie is attested from 1741. White Christmas is attested from 1847. White House as the name of the U.S. presidential residence is recorded from 1811. White water "river rapids" is recorded from 1580s. White Russian "language of Byelorussia" is recorded from 1850; the mixed drink is from c. 1978. Astronomical white dwarf is from 1924. White witch, one who used the power for good, is from 1620s.
- white (n.)
- Old English hwit "whiteness, white food, white of an egg," from white (adj.). Also in late Old English "a highly luminous color devoid of chroma." Meaning "white part of the eyeball" is from c. 1400. Meaning "white man, person of a race distinguished by light complexion" is from 1670s; white man in this sense is from 1690s. White man's burden is from Kipling's 1899 poem.
Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
- white bread (n.)
- c. 1300, as opposed to darker whole-grain type, from white (adj.) + bread (n.). Its popularity among middle-class America led to the slang adjectival sense of "conventional, bourgeois" (c. 1980). Old English had hwitehlaf.
- white elephant (n.)
- "burdensome charge, inconvenient thing that one does not know how to get rid of," 1851, supposedly from the practice of the King of Siam of presenting one of the sacred albino elephants to a courtier who had fallen from favor; the gift was a great honor, but the proper upkeep of one was ruinously expensive.
- white feather (n.)
- as a symbol of cowardice, 1785, said to be from the time when cock-fighting was respectable, and when the strain of game-cock in vogue had no white feathers, so that "having a white feather, is proof he is not of the true game breed" [Grose].
- white hope (n.)
- 1911, originally in U.S. sporting use in reference to the quest for a white man capable of beating champion pugilist Jack Johnson.
- white meat (n.)
- "meat of poultry, pigs, etc.," as opposed to red meat, 1752, from white (adj.) + meat (n.). Earlier it meant "foods prepared from milk" (early 15c.). African-American vernacular sense of "white women as sex partners" is from 1920s.
- white noise (n.)
- "sound made up of a random mixture of frequencies and intensities," by 1970, from white (adj.) + noise (n.).
- white trash (n.)
- 1824, originally in African-American vernacular in the South.
The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as 'poor white trash.' [Fanny Kemble, journal, Jan. 6, 1833]
- white-collar (adj.)
- by 1911, perhaps 1909, from white (adj.) + collar (n.).
The white collar men are your clerks; they are your bookkeepers, your cashiers, your office men. We call them the 'white collar men' in order to distinguish them from the men who work with uniform and overalls and carry the dinner pails. The boys over on the West side got that name for them. It was supposed to be something a little better than they were. [Malcolm McDowell, quoted in "Chicago Commerce," June 12, 1914]
White-collar crime attested by 1957 (there is a white-collar criminaloids from 1934).
- white-hot (adj.)
- "heated to full incandescence," 1820, from white (adj.) + hot (adj.). White heat is from 1710; figurative sense of "state of intense or extreme emotion" first recorded 1839.
- white-out (n.)
- 1946 as an extreme snow condition on the U.S. prairie, from white as a verb + out (adv.). From 1977 as a liquid correction for paper.
- white-tail (n.)
- type of North American deer, 1872, from white (adj.) + tail (n.).
- whiteboard (n.)
- 1966, from white (adj.) + board (n.1).
- whitecap (n.)
- 1660s, of birds, from white (adj.) + cap (n.). Attested from 1773 in reference to breaking waves, from 1818 of mushrooms, and from 1891 in reference to "one of a self-constituted band in U.S. who committed outrages under pretense of regulating public morals" [OED].
- whitefish (n.)
- collective name for cod, haddock, hake, sole, etc., mid-15c., from white (adj.) + fish (n.).
- whiten (v.)
- c. 1300, "to make white," from white (adj.) + -en (1). Intransitive sense "become white" is from 1630s. Earlier verb was simply white (late Old English). Related: Whitened; whitening; whitener.
- whiteness (n.)
- Old English hwitnes; see white (adj.) + -ness.
- whitewash (v.)
- 1590s, "to wash a building surface with white liquid," from white (adj.) + wash (v.). Figurative sense of "to cover up, conceal, give a false appearance of cleanness to" is attested from 1762. Related: Whitewashed; whitewashing. The noun is recorded from 1690s; in the figurative sense from 1851. The earlier verb was whitelime (c. 1300).
- whitey (n.)
- "'white' person, person of European descent," 1828, also whity, from white (adj.) + -y (2) and -y (3). Earlier as an adjective, and Whitey-brown was a 19c. descriptive color name, used to describe, among other things, mulatto skin.
Negro troops doing provost duty in Norfolk; keeping the white people in order. On a visit to Norfolk one can see white Southerners, arrested for sundry misdemeanors, working on the public streets, under negro guards. ... It is quite a change to see, in Norfolk, negroes forcing white men to work, at the point of the bayonet; calling out to them: "No loaf'n dar!" "Move quicker, Sah!" "Hurry up dar, Old Whitey!" and similar orders. Tables turned! [diary of Lieut. S. Millett Thompson, 13th New Hampshire Volunteer regiment, U.S. Army, Jan. 25, 1864; diary published 1888 by Houghton, Mifflin & Co.]
- whither (adv., conj.)
- Old English hwider, from Proto-Germanic *hwithre-, from *hwi- "who" (see who) + ending as in hither and thither. Compare Gothic hvadre.
- whithersoever (adv.)
- early 13c., from whither + so + ever.
- whitish (adj.)
- late 14c., from white (adj.) + -ish.
- whitlow (n.)
- "inflammation on a finger or toe," mid-15c., alteration of whitflaw (c. 1400), from flaw, with first element possibly from Dutch vijt or Low German fit "abscess."
- late 13c., contraction of Whitsunday.
- "Pentecost," late Old English Hwita Sunnandæg "white Sunday" (see white (adj.)); possibly so called from the white baptismal robes worn by newly baptized Christians on this day. Related: Whitsuntide.
- whittle (v.)
- 1550s, "to cut thin shavings from (something) with a knife," from Middle English whittel "a knife," especially a large one (c. 1400), variant of thwittle (late 14c.), from Old English þwitan "to cut," from Proto-Germanic *thwit- (source also of Old Norse þveita "to hew"), from PIE root *twei- "to agitate, shake, toss" (see seismo-). Figurative sense is attested from 1746. Related: Whittled; whittling.
- whiz (n.)
- "clever person," 1914, probably a special use of whiz "something remarkable" (1908), an extended sense of whizz; or perhaps a shortened and altered form of wizard. Noun phrase whiz kid is from 1930s, a take-off on a radio show's quiz kid.
- whizbang (n.)
- also whiz-bang, whizz-bang, 1915, originally a soldier's name for a type of German artillery shell in World War I, so called by the Allied troops in reference to its characteristic sound. From whizz + bang (v.).
- whizz (v.)
- "make or move with a humming, hissing sound," 1540s, of imitative origin. Meaning "to urinate" is from 1929. Related: Whizzed; whizzing. The noun is recorded from 1610s. Whizzer "something extraordinary" is from 1888.
- who (pron.)
- Old English hwa "who," sometimes "what; anyone, someone; each; whosoever," from Proto-Germanic *hwas (source also of Old Saxon hwe, Danish hvo, Swedish vem, Old Frisian hwa, Dutch wie, Old High German hwer, German wer, Gothic hvo (fem.) "who"), from PIE *kwo-, stem of relative and interrogative pronouns (source also of Sanskrit kah "who, which;" Avestan ko, Hittite kuish "who;" Latin quis/quid "in what respect, to what extent; how, why," qua "where, which way," qui/quae/quod "who, which;" Lithuanian kas "who;" Old Church Slavonic kuto, Russian kto "who;" Old Irish ce, Welsh pwy "who").
- whoa (interj.)
- 1620s, a cry to call attention from a distance, a variant of who. As a command to stop a horse, it is attested from 1843, a variant of ho. As an expression of delight or surprise (1980s) it has gradually superseded wow, which was very popular 1960s.
- whodunit (n.)
- "murder mystery," 1930, U.S. slang, originally a semi-facetious formation from who done it? Whydunit is from 1968.
- whoever (pron.)
- late Old English hwa efre; see who + ever.
- whole (adj.)
- Old English hal "entire, whole; unhurt, uninjured, safe; healthy, sound; genuine, straightforward," from Proto-Germanic *haila- "undamaged" (source also of Old Saxon hel, Old Norse heill, Old Frisian hal, Middle Dutch hiel, Dutch heel, Old High German, German heil "salvation, welfare"), from PIE *kailo- "whole, uninjured, of good omen" (source also of Old Church Slavonic celu "whole, complete;" see health).
The spelling with wh- developed early 15c. The sense in whole number is from early 14c. Whole milk is from 1782. On the whole "considering all facts or circumstances" is from 1690s. For phrase whole hog, see hog (n.).
- whole (n.)
- "entire body or company; the full amount," late 14c., from whole (adj.).
- whole cloth (n.)
- early 15c., "piece of cloth of full size," as opposed to a piece cut out for a garment; figurative sense first attested 1570s.