A Dictionary of Slang ..

Eric Partridge: A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English

Colloquialisms and Catch-phrases Solecisms and Catachreses Nicknames Vulgarisms and such Americanisms as have been naturalized

In two volumes, Volume I: The Dictionary Fifth Edition, March 30, 1960

London, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, Broadway House: 68-74 Carter Lane, E.C.4

old whale.

An old sailing-ship seaman: nautical: from ca. 1860; ob. Bowen.
A very stout man: late C. 19-20: coll. >, ca. 1905, S.E.
porpoise, do a.
(Of a submarine) to dive nose first at a sharp angle: naval: from 1916. Bowen
vbl.n. `The movement of an aeroplane when an imperfect "get-off", or landing, is made': Air Force: from 1915. F.&Gibbons. Contrast the preceding.
porps! porps!
`The old time whalers' cry when porpoises were sighted', Bowen: C. 19.
whale, go ahead like a.
To forge ahead; act, speak, write vigorously: coll.: from 1890's F.&H. Ex the majesty of a whale's movements.
whale!, very like a.
A c.p. applied to an improbability, esp. a preposterous assertion: from 1850's; ob. H., 1st ed.; in 2nd ed., very like a whale in a tea-cup. Ex Polonius's phrase when, in III, ii, 392-8, he is doing his best to approve Hamlet's similes.
whale and whitewash.
Fish and sauce : tramps' c. (-1932). F. Jennings, Tramping with Tramps.
whale of a ..., a.
`No end of a ...': coll.: U.S. (-1913), partly anglicised ca. 1918. Ex the whale's huge size.
whale on ..., a.
Greatly liking, having a great capacity for, expert at: coll.: 1893, Justin McCarthy, `He was not ... a whale on geography,' O.E.D.; rather ob. For semantics, cf. preceeding entry. Also, occ., whale at and for.
The Whale Island Gunnery School (Portsmouth): naval: C. 20. Bowen.
A sundowner: Australian coll.: ca. 1890-1910. The Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 8, 1893, 'The nomad, the whaler, it is who will find the new order hostile to his vested interest of doing nothing'. (He didn't.) Ex his cruising about. (Morris.)
He who travels up and down the banks of the Murrumbidgee River is a Murrumbidgee whaler, which some authorities consider to be the ironic original.
A tramp habitually arriving at a station too late for work but in time to get a night's shelter and a ration: Australian coll.>, by 1910, S.E.: 1875, Miss Bird; 1926, Jice Doone, 'The word is now almost obsolete, swaggie being the term almost universally in use.' (See esp. Morris.) Hence:
This practice: Australian coll.: from ca. 1890. Kinglake.

Abbreviations and Signs


F. Bowen's Sea Slang, 1929
Fraser & Gibbons, Soldier and Sailoor Words and Phrases, 1925
Standard English
Farmer & Henley's Slang and its Analogues, 7 vols., 1890-1904
J.C. Hotten, Slang Dictionary, 1859, 1860, etc.
The Oxford English Dictionary


become(s); became
verbal noun
cant, i.e. language of the underworld
century; as C. 18, the 18th century