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A whale of a chance

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 06, 2009 at 21:21

In Reply to: A whale of a chance posted by Victoria S Dennis on April 06, 2009 at 21:03:

: : : : Please tell me what's the meaning of "A whale of a chance"? I've seen it in "Richard Ellsworth Savage" from "The Big Money" by Dos Passos.

: : : Because the whale is the largest animal on earth, "a whale of a [thing]" is an idiom meaning "a very big - and usually very good - [thing]". You can have a "whale of a good time", "a whale of a joke", and so on.(VSD)

: : Very true. But if it's used as a verb, or the gerund "whaling," it's no longer a "good thing." For instance, "After setting the garage on fire, I got the whaling of a lifetime when Dad got home. As I expected, he whaled me good." This usage is a bit old-fashioned, probably obsolescent, so the word is frequently misspelled.
: : SS

: That's not one I've ever heard. Is it purely Leftpondian? (VSD)

It's not much in vogue nowadays, but was in my youth. Here's the latest dope from the OED.

"Now U.S. colloq.

"[whale:] 1. trans. To beat, flog, thrash.

"1790 GROSE Prov. 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 'MARK TWAIN' Huck. Finn iii, He used to always whale me when he was sober and could get his hands on me."

The OED defines whaling (other than catching whales) as "Beating, thrashing." Again, it is said to be an Americanism.