To Wale, wail or not to whale…

There are terms that seem to live almost exclusively in the realm of written or verbal communication, with limited crossover between the two. I very rarely hear the terms ‘recidivism’ or ‘ethereal’, for example. I rarely see the word ‘tracky-daks’…

I think informal and conversational ‘write it as you’d say it’ communication through social media is increasing the cross-over from verbal to written, especially with regards to slang terms – ‘farking’, ‘ca’an’ (or ‘carn’), and ‘jeebers’ for example, but I think there are a range of euphemisms, sayings and terms that just aren’t written that often.

One that got me to thinking was the term ‘to wale on’. I’m sure some of the older folk – those that copped a cane or two perhaps – may be well across what a ‘wale‘ is. But I had limited exposure to this form, especially compared with its homophones.

So when it came time to write it, I didn’t know what to write. In fact, what I’d always thought to it be – ‘wail’ – was WAY off the mark…

If you were to ‘ask the audience’, using Google-Fu as a guide, your ignorance would be affirmed rather than countered. A simple Google search for the three terms shows:

“To whale on” – 1,100,000 pages
“To wail on” – 744,000 pages
“To wale on” – 76,000 pages

The imagery around ‘whaling’ or ‘wailing’ on someone is kind of comedic, but if Google is to believed, they will likely persist in being the most common forms of the saying – simultaneously…

Are there other examples of lesser known homophones being the correct term, but where another, more popular form has taken precedence? Or was I in the minority with my acute ignorance in this manner?


I’ve thought of one other case ‘champing at the bit‘ and some near-cases (thanks Steph for being a wily one).

“Champing at the bit” – 279,000
“Chomping at the bit” – 15,900,000

“One foul swoop” – 518,000
“One fowl swoop” – 477,000
“One foul sweep” – 387,000
One fell swoop” – 2,120,000

“While away the time” – 2,390,000
“wile away the time” – 746,000

One thought on “To Wale, wail or not to whale…

  1. Applied Lx Ninja says:

    You’re welcome. I’m enjoying your linguistic postings! Keep em’ coming…

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