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A humpback whale.
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From Middle English whale, from Old English hwæl (whale), from Proto-Germanic *hwalaz (whale) (compare German Wal, Danish and Norwegian Bokmål hval, Norwegian Nynorsk kval; compare also Dutch walvis, West Frisian walfisk, from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kʷálos (sheatfish) (compare German Wels, Latin squalus (big sea fish), Old Prussian kalis, Ancient Greek ἄσπαλος (áspalos), Avestan 𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬐 (kara, kind of fish)).



whale (plural whales)

  1. Any of several species of large sea mammals of the order Cetacea.
    • 2013 August 3, “Yesterday’s fuel”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8847:
      The dawn of the oil age was fairly recent. Although the stuff was used to waterproof boats in the Middle East 6,000 years ago, extracting it in earnest began only in 1859 after an oil strike in Pennsylvania. [] It was used to make kerosene, the main fuel for artificial lighting after overfishing led to a shortage of whale blubber.
  2. (figuratively) Something, or someone, that is very large.
    • 1920 September, “A Reformed Free Lance” (pseudonym), “Doctoring a Sick Encyclopedia”, in The Writer, Volume XXXII, Number 9, page 131:
      It was a whale of a job. [] It took two months, and the fair blush of youth off my cheeks.
    • 1947 May 19, John Chamberlain, “Will Clayton and his Problem”, in Life, page 120:
      But when it comes to his business life and business career, Will Clayton is not as other men; he is such a whale of a lot better that it suggests a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference.
  3. (figuratively) Something, or someone, that is excellent.
    • 2002, Kathleen Benson, Philip M. Kayal, Museum of the City of New York, A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City, Syracuse University Press ISBN 9780815607397, page 54
      My own father only wrote one poem in his life as far as I know, but it was a whale of a lyric, the kind you would give your whole life to write, which he did, but that is another story.
    • 2006, June Skinner Sawyers, Read the Beatles: Classic and New Writings on the Beatles, Their Legacy, and Why They Still Matter, Penguin ISBN 9781440649257
      Busley Crowther in The New York Times called it “a whale of a comedy” even though he couldn't tell the four musicians apart except for Ringo (“the big-nosed one”).
    • 2013, Fred Holtby & Chris Lovie, ROWDY - THE STORY OF A POLICE DOG, Lulu.com ISBN 9781291591651, page 105
      They were having a whale of a time when a very stern looking shop assistant came over to tell them off.
  4. (gambling) In a casino, a person who routinely bets at the maximum limit allowable.
    • 2003, Jeff Wuorio, How to Buy and Sell (Just About) Everything,
      These are often no-limit games as maximum bets cramp a whale’s style.
    • 2004, Norm Clarke, Vegas Confidential: Norm! Sin City's Ace Insider 1,000 Naked Truths, Hot Spots and Cool Stuff,
      A handful of the richest whales routinely play for $200,000 a hand. Australian media mogul Kerry Packer not only regularly bets that much, but has plunked down $200,000 bets for the dealer as a form of a tip.
    • 2008, Deke Castleman, Whale Hunt in the Desert,
      The high roller who had the most ferocious reputation for trying to run the business of the casinos where he played, before he died on December 26, 2006, was Kerry Packer. In the casino world, Packer was the Prince of Whales.
  5. (by extension) A video game player who spends large amounts of money on premium content.
    • 2015, Jamie Madigan, Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People who Play Them
      Whales are the big spenders who drop huge amounts of money into a game.

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whale (third-person singular simple present whales, present participle whaling, simple past and past participle whaled)

  1. (intransitive) To hunt for whales.
  2. (transitive) To flog, to beat.


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