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This post uses the expression:

These days forcing everything in 3D is no particular advantage. Graphics card can whale on 2D problems just as efficiently as 3D ones. It's just a question of writing some different shader programs.

What does it mean? And is it a phrasal verb ("to whale on [sth]" like "to keep on going"), or is the preposition simply connecting the verb normally ("to whale [on sth]" like "to stand on the floor")?

  • I was thinking fail whale here... – mplungjan Mar 14 '13 at 12:24
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Wiktionary lists them as alternate forms of each other.


Merriam Webster's third definition of "whale" as a verb is:

1: lash, thrash 2 : to strike or hit vigorously 3 : to defeat soundly

While it offers no comparable definition of "wail".


Etymonline suggests a connection between "whale", meaning

to beat or whip severely

and the noun form of "wale":

a raised line.

In turn, this may be related to the noun weal:

a raised mark on skin.

So, "to whale on", meaning "to lash", definitely has credence.


Dictionary.com offers only this about "wail on (someone)":

to beat someone. (See also whale the tar out of (so).) : Who are those two guys wailing on Sam?

Again, ambiguity exists as to whale/wail on.


An ngram search shows that "whale on" occurs more frequently than "wail on" and "wale on", respectively.


Then there's this:

One informal meaning of “whale” is “to beat.” Huck Finn says of Pap that “He used to always whale me when he was sober.” Although the vocalist in a band may wail a song, the drummer whales on the drums; and lead guitarists when they thrash their instruments wildly whale on them. Although this usage dates back to the 18th century and used to be common in Britain and America, it is now confined mostly to the US, and even there people often mistakenly use “wail” for this meaning.


In answer to your question, both "whale" and the phrasal verb "whale on" have the meaning of "lash viciously". "Wail on", as a phrasal verb exists, but is less frequent than "whale on" and may get you berated.

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whale (on) [transitive verb]
1: lash, thrash
2: to strike or hit vigorously
3: to defeat soundly
First Known Use: circa 1790

from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whale

In your example, it is the third use "to defeat soundly". So the rendering problem can be overcome easily by the graphics card.

Note that sometimes "whale on" is mistakenly written as "wail on".

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Wale on, as in the wales of corduroy= raising wales or whelps on the skin from a whipping.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. It would be better if you could include any reference/research for the words suggested. I would advise you to visit our help center. – user140086 Dec 7 '15 at 3:17
  • I think by "whelp" you mean "welt". The spelling "wale on," even if etymologically accurate, is not standard. – sumelic May 21 '17 at 18:34

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