Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Out of Whack

Jane from Traverse City asked about the phrase, out of whack. Today, it refers to a situation or machine not operating as it should. It showed up in America in the late 1800s.

Originally, a whack was a smack or a blow. The word probably arose in imitation of the sound that such a hit would make. To take a whack at something was to attempt it.

Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the English Tongue defined whack as 18th century underworld slang meaning “a share of a booty obtained by fraud.” Hotten’s Slang Dictionary [1874] included “to go whacks,” meaning to divide equally or to enter into partnership.

Britain contributed “the full whack,” meaning the maximum price or rate. The Mafia chimed in with “to whack someone,” meaning to murder execution-style.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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