whale » wail
Spotted in the wild:
- “… So, what’s the consensus? Plan your work and work your plan? Plan it but then wing it? Or just wail away at the keyboard and see what happens?” (Bob Newell on rec.arts.int-fiction, 5 June 1994)
- “and wail away at each other, drawing blood. They drip snot and tears, stumble in to Murph’s mother, she clucks and fusses, ices their wounds, …” (link)
- “Well, I do wail away at the Establishment. But I’m not particularly angry about it.” (link)
Analyzed or reported by:
- Alison Murie (American Dialect Society mailing list, 5 June 2005)
Alison Murie’s ADS-L query about the first cite led me to 561 Google hits, almost all of which look like genuine replacements for the idiom “whale away at” — involving the verb “whale”, which is of uncertain etymology but seems to have nothing to do with whales. Replacement by “wail” at least introduces a component of tear-producing pain resulting from striking or beating, a component that is especially vivid in the second cite above.