Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Sep 25 20:40:13 UTC 2007

At 9/25/2007 02:25 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>On 9/25/07, Charles Doyle <cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:
> >
> > Google Books seems to show "take a whiz" from 1925--Benjamin De Casseres,
> > _Mirrors of New York_:  "There was a cellar, however, three
> blocks up the avenue
> > where a gentleman could take a whiz at the wheel. No, we couldn't
> do anything
> > with the wheel today."  Although it's attractive to envision a
> small waterwheel
> > installed inside a urinal for the recreation of well hydrated
> whizzers, I assume the
> > reference is to some other activity.
>Presumably along the lines of "take a whirl/whack/crack/stab at".

More likely from the last part of the following:  whizz, whiz,
N.1:  "1. a. An act, or the action, of whizzing; a sibilant sound
somewhat less shrill than a hiss, and having a trace of musical tone
like a buzz; *a swift movement producing such a sound*."

John Baker wrote:
>        Used similarly on page 249 of J.W. Scott, Jack Hardin's
>Rendering of the Arabian Nights (1903) (Google Books full text), a
>slangy retelling of some of the stories from the Arabian Nights:  "He
>doctored at Carlsbad and everywhere, and had all kinds of doctors, and
>they all gave him up.  The Christian Scientists and the Faith Cure push
>and everybody else took a whiz at him; but they couldn't touch him, and
>they all quit him cold and pulled their freight for home."

This whiz ("take a whack at") seems more a derivation (not in OED2)
from N.2, 1.b: "A person who is wonderfully skilful or talented in
some respect."


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

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