Where does that use of "wail" come from, Copyright?
Thanks, Mar and Copyright, for the clear explanation.
I guess "wail my pecs" comes from "give my pecs a real workout until it wails," right?
In my part of the world, the verb "whale" is used - and it's almost certainly relevant.
From the OED:
1. To beat, flog, thrash.
2. To do something implied by the context continuously or vehemently.
It's labelled "US colloquial", but it may have moved there from here.
This is all new to me.
I've never heard any such phrase, either "wall on" or "w(h)ale", etc. and would have had no idea what it was supposed to mean.
I've heard it spoken many times; I had no idea how it was spelled until just now: Whale, wail, wale. For some reason I assumed it was the first option.
And a Google search shows it is not a extremely recent phrase. This from Huck Finn:
Pap he hadn't been seen for more than a year, and that was comfortable for me; I didn't want to see him no more. He used to always whale me when he was sober and could get his hands on me; though I used to take to the woods most of the time when he was around.
One site suggested that the old term for "welt" (from perhaps a whipping) was "wael" and that was the source for the word.
Only spoken (my edit came in after you asked)Did you ever see this written back then? Or just spoken.
Only spoken (my edit came in after you asked)
Here's one more twist: In the hard rock circles in which I socialized during my teens we often referred to guitars we liked as "wailing" and admired anyone who "wailed on" a solo. To my young mind this was no different than the other usages of "wail on" which all meant to be deeply, emotionally invested in a physical activity. And of course describing a guitar as wailing was accepted as the norm to us because of the Beatles.
Something that wails creates a sound - a person or a guitar, for instance. Whale on is completely different. It's something one person does to another person and doesn't describe a sound. It simply means pummel. I see no relation between the two except this - if you whale on your guitar with skill you can make it wail.
Packard, your Mark Twain quote got me to thinking.
I now seem to recall, and I think uttered by rural folk when I was little, the expression "I got/he got a whalin'." I understood it to be some kind of spanking, although, let's face it, in those days that was sometimes done with a strap, belt, or cane, not necessarily just with the hand.
There's an older one in the linked thread, MrPI will still with Mark Twain's "whale" spelling noted in my post #19 as the oldest in-print version I can find.
Here's what the OED says about "whale" = beat, flog, thrash
[...]The first citation dates back to 1790:
1790 F. Grose Provinc. Gloss. (ed. 2) Whale, to beat with a horsewhip or pliant stick.
1801 G. Hanger Life II. 162 Whaleing a gentleman is but a vulgar revenge.
1884 ‘M. Twain’ Adventures Huckleberry Finn iii. 30 He used to always whale me when he was sober and could get his hands on me.