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The meaning and origin of the expression: A whip round

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A whip round

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Meaning

An impromptu collection of money from a group of people, in order to fund some joint enterprise.

Origin

The sad spectacle of the alcoholic ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne was reported in the UK press in February 2013, with the accompanying reports that his celebrity friends had organised a 'whip round' to fund his stay in a rehab clinic.

So, why is the collection of funds called a whip round? This expression is very much 'made in England' as it derives from fox hunting, the British Army and parliament.

In 19th century foxhunts, people were employed to stop the hounds from straying by using whips to keep them in place. Such people became known as 'whippers in' or simply 'whips'. This term has been perpetuated in the British House of Commons where the word 'whip' again does double duty, as it is both the name of the officers whose job it is to guide straying MPs into the voting lobbies, that is, to 'whip up' enthusiasm for a particular vote, and is also the name of the coercion process itself, which is called 'the whip'.

Later in the 19th century, the term began to be used in military officers' messes. John Camden Hotten described this in the 1864 edition of The Slang Dictionary:

Whip, after the usual allowance of wine is drunk at mess, those who wish for more put a shilling each into a glass handed round to procure a further supply.

It doesn't take much imagination to see how the process became known as a 'whip round'. Although the process began in officers' messes, it was used more widely whenever a request for group funding was made. The first use of 'whip' in this wider context that I can find is in Thomas Hughes' novel Tom Brown at Oxford, 1861:

If they would stand a whip of ten shillings a man, they might have a new boat.

Whip roundThe early use of 'whip round' was almost coincident with that of 'whip', as is found in this piece from a March 1863 edition of The Hampshire Advertiser, which gives a nice illustration of the use of the term to mean 'a joint contribution to meet a small debt':

In our last week's impression we stated that the balance in the hands of the committee for carrying out the Royal wedding festivities amounted to 30 shillings; it should have been threepence. Two or three bills were overlooked at the time, so that instead of a balance in hand it will require a 'whip round' to settle these bills.

[Note: the wedding being referred to was the marriage, at Windsor, of Edward Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark.]

It is perhaps a mark of social change in the UK that, although the expression originated in the English upper classes, it is now footballers rather than princes who merit a 'whip round'. I can find no record of any collection to fund festivities when the present Prince of Wales was married at Windsor in April 2005.

See also: 'Whipping boy' and 'Whipper snapper'.