"A great whew"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Oct 16 00:07:17 UTC 2011

I'm not sure whether the following is:

(1)  whew, n.2, "A hurry; esp. in phr. all of a whew, in a hurry,
impatient or excited.", earliest quotation 1905; or
(2)  whew, int., "An exclamation of the nature of a whistle uttered
by a person as a sign of astonishment, disgust, dismay, etc.", which
is a little older.

The context is disturbances in Boston over application of the
fugitive slave laws in Massachusetts.  "Miss Martha Russell, a
newspaper correspondent", writes:

"Boston, May 26, 1854.
"Dear Friends:---I have a great many things to say to you and
scarcely know where to begin. I am in a great 'phew,' as Aunt Lydia
used to say. There is a fugitive slave now confined in Boston Court
House ... His master came on ... and 'nabbed' him at once. He was
going off with him but Mr. {Richard Henry] Dana interfered, and
tomorrow he will have his trial. The whole city is in excitement: a
great meeting in Fanueil Hall ... and I am going. ... I shall go up
to the Commonwealth office tomorrow ...".

"Whew" here looks like a noun, with the sense of "excited".  If so,
it antedates OED2  1905--.

In Mary Caroline Crawford, _Romantic Days in Old Boston_ (1922), page
142.; there is also a 1910 edition  Possibly findable in a newspaper
of the day (Crawford does not identify her source).

Now if one could find Aunt Lydia, it could be further antedated.

Stay tuned for "great-phew".


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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