whiff

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

A number of flatfish are or were formerly known as whiffs (noun sense 6), including the megrim (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis; top), the lemon sole (Microstomus kitt; middle), and the horned whiff (Citharichthys arenaceus; bottom).

The noun is possibly:[1]

  • partly a variant of Middle English wef, weffe (bad smell, stench, stink; exhalation; vapour; tendency of something to go bad (?)) [and other forms],[2] possibly a variant of either:
    • waf, waif, waife (odour, scent),[3], possibly from waven (to move to and fro, sway, wave; to stray, wander; to move in a weaving manner; (figuratively) to hesitate, vacillate), from Old English wafian (to wave),[4] ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *webʰ- (to braid, weave); or
    • wef (a blow, stroke),[5] from weven (to travel, wander; to move to and fro, flutter, waver; to blow something away, waft; to cause something to move; to fall; to cut deeply; to sever; to give up, yield; to give deference to; to avoid; to afflict, trouble; to beckon, signal); further etymology uncertain, perhaps from Old English wefan (to weave) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *webʰ- (to braid, weave)), or from -wǣfan (see bewǣfan, ymbwǣfan);[6] and
  • partly onomatopoeic.

Noun sense 6 (“name of a number of flatfish”) is possibly derived from sense 1 (“brief, gentle breeze; a light gust of air”), sense 4 (“small quantity of cloud, smoke, vapour, etc.”), and other such senses.[7]

The verb[8] and adjective[1] are derived from the noun. Verb sense 2.6 (“to catch fish by dragging a handline near the surface of the water from a moving boat”) is possibly derived from sense 1.1 (“to carry or convey (something) by, or as by, a whiff or puff of air”), sense 2.2 (“to be carried, or move as if carried, by a puff of air”), and other such senses.[9]

The interjection is derived from noun sense 7.4 (“a sound like that of air passing through a small opening; a short or soft whistle”).

Pronunciation[edit]

Noun[edit]

whiff (plural whiffs)

  1. A brief, gentle breeze; a light gust of air; a waft.
    Synonym: puff
  2. A short inhalation or exhalation of breath, especially when accompanied by smoke from a cigarette or pipe.
    1. (by extension, archaic) A cigarette or small cigar.
  3. An odour (usually unpleasant) carried briefly through the air.
    Synonym: sniff
    • 1731, [Jonathan Swift], “Strephon and Chloe”, in A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed. [], Dublin; London: [] [William Bowyer] for J. Roberts [], published 1734, OCLC 1102705083, page 8:
      And then, ſo nice, and ſo genteel; / Such Cleanlineſs from Head to Heel: / No Humours groſs, or frowzy Steams, / No noiſom Whiffs, or ſweaty Streams, / Before, behind, above, below, / Could from her taintleſs Body flow.
    • 1774 April 19, Edmund Burke, Speech of Edmund Burke, Esq. on American Taxation, April 19, 1774, 2nd edition, London: [] J[ames] Dodsley, [], published 1775, OCLC 873432945, page 85:
      The fortune of ſuch men was a temptation too great to be reſiſted by one, to whom, a ſingle whiff of incenſe withheld gave much greater pain, than he received delight, in the clouds of it, which daily roſe about him from the prodigal ſuperſtition of innumerable admirers.
    • 1785, William Cowper, “Book IV. The Winter Evening.”, in The Task, a Poem, [], London: [] J[oseph] Johnson; [], OCLC 228757725, page 161:
      [E]v'ry twentieth pace / Conducts the unguarded noſe to ſuch a whiff / Of ſtale debauch forth-iſſuing from the ſtyes / That law has licenſed, as makes temp'rance reel.
    • 1842 December – 1844 July, Charles Dickens, “Martin Disembarks from that Noble and Fast-sailing Line of Packet Ship, the Screw, at the Port of New York, in the United States of America. []”, in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1844, OCLC 977517776, page 203:
      When the major rose from his rocking-chair before the stove and so disturbed the hot air and balmy whiff of soup which fanned their brows, the odour of stale tobacco became so decidedly prevalent as to leave no doubt of its proceeding mainly from that gentleman's attire.
    • 1922 October 26, Virginia Woolf, chapter II, in Jacob’s Room, Richmond, London: [] Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, OCLC 19736994; republished London: The Hogarth Press, 1960, OCLC 258624721, page 21:
      But the butterflies were dead. A whiff of rotten eggs had vanquished the pale clouded yellows which came pelting across the orchard and up Dods Hill and away on to the moor, now lost behind a furze bush, then off again helter-skelter in a broiling sun
  4. A small quantity of cloud, smoke, vapour, etc.; specifically (obsolete), chiefly in take the whiff: a puff of tobacco smoke.
    Synonym: puff
  5. A flag used as a signal; a waff, a waif, a wheft.
    • 1832, [Frederick Marryat], chapter XI, in Newton Forster; or, The Merchant Service. [], volume III, London: James Cochrane and Co., [], OCLC 3696068, page 178:
      When the Indiaman was within a mile, the stranger threw out neutral colours, and hoisted a whiff, half-mast down, as a signal that she was in distress.
  6. The name of a number of flatfish such as (dated) the lemon sole (Microstomus kitt) and now, especially, the megrim (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis) and (with a descriptive word) a species of large-tooth flounder or sand flounder (family Paralichthyidae).
  7. (figuratively)
    1. A slight sign of something; a burst, a glimpse, a hint.
    2. A slight attack or touch.
    3. A characteristic quality of something; a flavour, a savour, a taste.
    4. A sound like that of air passing through a small opening; a short or soft whistle.
      • 1712, Humphry Polesworth [pseudonym; John Arbuthnot], “The Sequel of the History of the Meeting at the Salutation”, in Lewis Baboon Turned Honest, and John Bull Politician. Being the Fourth Part of Law is a Bottomless-Pit. [], London: [] John Morphew, [], OCLC 1205413427, page 5:
        Nic. anſvver'd little to that, but immediately pull'd out a Boatſvvain's VVhistle; upon the firſt VVhiff, the Tradeſmen came jumping into the Room, []
    5. (sports, chiefly US, slang) A failure to hit a ball in various sports (for example, golf); a miss.
      1. (baseball) From the batter's perspective: a strike.
  8. (archaic) An expulsion of explosive or shot.
  9. (nautical) An outrigged boat for one person propelled by oar.
  10. (obsolete) A sip of an alcoholic beverage.

Hyponyms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]

Translations[edit]

Verb[edit]

whiff (third-person singular simple present whiffs, present participle whiffing, simple past and past participle whiffed)

  1. (transitive)
    1. To carry or convey (something) by, or as by, a whiff or puff of air; to blow, puff, or waft away.
    2. To say (something) with an exhalation of breath.
    3. To inhale or exhale (smoke from tobacco, etc.) from a cigarette, pipe, or other smoking implement; to smoke (a cigarette, pipe, etc.); to puff.
    4. To breathe in or sniff (an odour); to smell.
      • 1635, Fra[ncis] Quarles, “Canto VII. Cant[icles] VII. XI.”, in Emblemes, London: [] G[eorge] M[iller] and sold at at Iohn Marriots shope [], OCLC 1161712157, book IV, stanza 1, page 209:
        Come, come, my deare, and let us both retire / And vvhiffe the dainties of the fragrant fields: []
      • a. 1645 (date written), Fra[ncis] Quarles, “Eglogue X”, in The Shepheards Oracles: Delivered in Certain Eglogues, London: [] M. F. for John Marriot and Richard Marriot, [], published 1645 (indicated as 1646), OCLC 1203251243, page 119:
        The kalender, [] hath late deſcry'd / That evill affected planet Mars, ally'd / To temporizing Mercury, conjoyn'd / I'th'houſe of Death; [] That Houſe; vvhich like a Sun in this our Orbe, / VVhiffes up the Belgick fumes, and does abſorbe / From every Soile rich vapours, []
      • 1891 October, Will Allen Dromgoole, “A Grain of Gold”, in B[enjamin] O[range] Flower, editor, The Arena, volume IV, number XXIII, Boston, Mass.: The Arena Publishing Co., OCLC 7416744, pages 631–632:
        He glanced once at the pines, going farther away, whiffed at the pleasant odor of the grape blooms, waved his hand to the roses, in farewell, perhaps, lifted his face to the blue heaven— [] then, wearing that same old look of his mother's, he turned, without a word, and re-entered the prison.
    5. (slang)
      1. (archaic or dated) To shoot (someone) with a firearm; hence, to assassinate or kill (someone).
        • 1837, Thomas Carlyle, “Storm and Victory”, in The French Revolution: A History [], volume I (The Bastille), London: Chapman and Hall Limited, OCLC 1026761782, book V (The Third Estate), page 187:
          Arms are the one thing needful: with arms we are an unconquerable man-defying National Guard; without arms, a rabble to be whiffed with grapeshot.
        • 1916 January, Pousse Cailloux, “75’s”, in Blackwood’s Magazine, volume CXCIX, number MCCIII, American edition, New York, N.Y.: The Leonard Scott Publication Co., Barr Ferree, prop[rietor] [], OCLC 1042815524, section I, page 59, column 1:
          It was pointed out that troops would not always remain in the open to be whiffed out of existence by shrapnel. Rather would they get under cover at what speed they might. So a shell to deal with entrenchments, buildings, and fortifications was indicated.
        • 1939, Raymond Chandler, chapter 14, in The Big Sleep, New York, N.Y.: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, published August 1992, →ISBN, page 82:
          You shot Geiger to get it. Last night in the rain. It was dandy shooting weather. The trouble is he wasn't alone when you whiffed him. Either you didn't notice that, which seems unlikely, or you got the wind up and lammed.
      2. (US, baseball) Of a pitcher: to strike out (a batter); to fan.
    6. (obsolete) To consume (an alcoholic beverage).
  2. (intransitive)
    1. To move in a way that causes a light gust of air, or a whistling sound.
    2. To be carried, or move as if carried, by a puff of air; to waft.
    3. To smoke a cigarette, pipe, or other smoking implement.
    4. To smell; to sniff.
    5. (slang)
      1. To give off or have an unpleasant smell; to stink.
        • 1899 January, Rudyard Kipling, “An Unsavoury Interlude”, in Stalky & Co., London: Macmillan & Co., published 1899, OCLC 1127934491, page 79:
          She [a dead cat]—is—there, gettin' ready to surprise 'em. Presently she'll begin to whisper to 'em in their dreams. Then she'll whiff. Golly, how she'll whiff!
        • 2007, Chris Walker; with Neil Bramwell, “Tourist Stalker”, in Stalker!: Chris Walker: The Autobiography, London: HarperSport, HarperCollinsPublishers, →ISBN, page 31:
          The second trauma was sharing a boat with all the foreigners who were beginning to whiff somewhat and had things crawling out of their beards, having spent days on end reaching the ferry on their bikes.
      2. (US, chiefly sports) Especially in baseball or golf: to completely miss hitting a ball; hence (baseball), of a batter: to strike out; to fan.
      3. (by extension) To fail spectacularly.
    6. (fishing) To catch fish by dragging a handline near the surface of the water from a moving boat.

Derived terms[edit]

Translations[edit]

Adjective[edit]

whiff (comparative more whiff, superlative most whiff)

  1. (informal) Having a strong or unpleasant odour.
    Synonyms: stinking, whiffy; see also Thesaurus:malodorous
    • 1899 January, Rudyard Kipling, “An Unsavoury Interlude”, in Stalky & Co., London: Macmillan & Co., published 1899, OCLC 1127934491, pages 77–78:
      [F]rom under a pile of stones [they] drew forth the new-slain corpse of a cat. [] 'Well-nourished old lady, ain't she?' said Stalky. 'How long d'you suppose it'll take her to get a bit whiff in a confined space?' / 'Bit whiff! What a coarse brute you are!' said M'Turk. 'Can't a poor pussy-cat get under King's dormitory floor to die without your pursuin' her with your foul innuendoes?'
    • 2002 November 5, Jim Rozen, “Way oil”, in rec.crafts.metalworking, Usenet[3]:
      Whoo boy that gear oil is pretty whiff. If you actually do this, spend the extra money for the synthetic gear oil as it will not have as bad a sulfur stink as the regular stuff.

Translations[edit]

Interjection[edit]

whiff

  1. Used to indicate a sound like that of air passing through a small opening, that is, a short or soft whistle.

Translations[edit]

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 whiff, n.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “whiff1, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ wēf, n.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  3. ^ wā̆f, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. ^ wāven, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  5. ^ wēf, n.(2)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  6. ^ wēven, v.(2)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  7. ^ whiff, n.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “whiff2, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  8. ^ whiff, v.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “whiff1, v.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  9. ^ whiff, v.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021.

Further reading[edit]