Heard on the Today show: "whuppin'"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 28 16:40:23 UTC 2008

Eye-dialect is a harsh master. "Open up a can of whip-ass," pronounced
"whup-ass" by some,  has been randomly around since the '60's in BE of
all kinds and strikes me as something made up by some middle-class
speaker and not by someone from the street. It just doesn't have the
right ring to it. it's soul-less. Compare it to the authentic:

"... smell(s) like ten gallons of git-back"

"... give her a diamond got more carats than Bugs Bunny can handle"

That is, "open ..." has neither alliteration, assonance, nor rhyme,
contains no pun and references nothing in general culture. The first
authentic example exhibits assonance - _ten_ [tIn] and _git_ - and
alliteration - gallons git-back. The second one puns on karat / carrot
and references Bugs Bunny, who once won an Oscar.

I've seen "... _whoop_-ass" in print. But, for me, the pronunciation
of "whoop" falls together with that of "hoop," as any dictionary will
agree, which causes me to doubt that whoever wrote that had ever heard
the phrase spoken. He was probably totally devoid of any kind of
linguistic knowledge, and had not even done much reading, even of

The spelling "whup" has appeared in eye-dialect since before I was
born, in comic strips like Li'l Abner. This spelling has appeared in
the general press on a more-or-less common basis since the heyday of
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.


On Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 11:39 AM, James Harbeck <jharbeck at sympatico.ca> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       James Harbeck <jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA>
> Subject:      Re: Heard on the Today show: "whuppin'"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> FWIW, although "whuppin'" undoubtedly comes from "whipping," it
> doesn't really have the same valence for me, and it _is_ a word that
> I've been accustomed to for some time. Rather, it and "whoop" (as in
> "open up a can of whoop-ass") make me think not of whipping (except
> on reflection) but of striking with the hand, a belt, the feet, or
> just in general -- more in the way of blunt objects.
> I would agree that it's a deliberate cultural reference --
> African-American or at least Southern American, in the same way that
> "a certain je ne sais quoi" is deliberately French and "top of the
> morning to you" is deliberately Irish (though, I'm told, not
> necessarily common in Ireland). I'm just not sure that the users have
> it in mind as a conscious variant on "whipping" -- "whip his ass"
> isn't, in my little universe (FWIW), a white equivalent of "whup his
> ass," and "give him a whipping" couldn't be used everywhere "give him
> a whuppin'" could; my sense is that the reference to literal whipping
> has faded almost entirely into the background. So whenever I've used
> "whup" or "whuppin'", I haven't had whipping in mind.
> But that's just individual data from a Canadian, so of course the
> consciousness of its relation to "whipping" (which for me is only
> there on reflection) may be more present for the users on the Today
> show.
> James Harbeck.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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