From Watership Down, by Richard Adams:

Chervil: “It’ll have to be reported.”

Bigwig: “Whatever for?”

Chervil: “Because it’s unusual. Everything unusual has to be reported.”

I think saying “What for?” would work there as well, so is there an added meaning when using “Whatever for?” with whatever instead of just what there? Is this a colloquialism?

  • This is totally unrelated, but imagine virtual +1 for making me think of Watership Down.
    – skymningen
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 12:40
  • I missed the book when it was published in here in Czech translation in 1986 as a book for kids 13+ (quite a big edition size then, 50.000 copies), I wasn't a kid anymore. My American friends lent me a copy a couple months ago. I got hooked on it and read it three times in a row.
    – Osika
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 13:50
  • 2
    merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whatever (definition 2)
    – MetaEd
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 14:09
  • 1
    It's nearly like asking "What for" vs "What the sh!! for" vs "what the f!!! for" Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 14:12
  • 2
    Nonverbally the "whatever" locution would likely be pronounced with an emphasis on the word "ever": What EVER for? which conveys, as Barrie England suggests, greater incomprehension. Normally, "whatever" has three almost equally stressed syllables, as in the saying "Whatever floats your boat." Although young people use the "whatever" locution as an expression of "couldn't care less," and the nonverbal component might involve a higher pitch on the word "what," a lower pitch on the word "ever," and a longer, drawn out "R" sound on the final "R." Kind of like "WHAT--ev' errrr." Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 14:26

1 Answer 1


Whatever for?, rather than just What for?, adds a greater sense of incomprehension on the part of the speaker over what has just been said.

  • 4
    And/or surprise. Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 13:29

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