Antedatings of "give/show you what for"

Hugo hugovk at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 3 08:41:50 UTC 2013

"to give (one) what for" / "to show (someone) what for" (OED 1873)

The OED's 1873 is a "give…", their first "show…" is 1960. I found a pair of "gives" from 1868 and a "show" from 1858.

First, Springdale Abbey (page 159, 1868) by Joseph Parker:

Spite of your melancholy wheezing, to which the hydropathic adder turns a deaf ear, he catches you a sharp rap on the back, and with a knowing wink at one of his co-bucketters, he says he will give you "what for."

Second, Secrets of the Turf; or, how I won the Derby (page 125, 1868) by Samuel Bracebridge Hemying:

I'm the master of the situation, and if you don't take your hook instanter, I reckon I'll give you what for with this bit of wood.”
"Show you what for"

Finally, Wild Western Scenes: A Narrative of Adventures in the Western Wilderness (page 137, 1858) by John Beauchamp Jones:

"What did you do that for ?" asked Sneak, rising up and brushing the snow from his head, and face, his fall having broken the icy surface.

"You rascal, you ! I'll show you what for !" cried Joe, endeavouring to get at him again.

This is good as it shows it used as an angry response to someone asking "What did you do that for?".


The American Dialect Society -

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