This question regards the sentence in the New Yorker’s (June 14) article “Lunch at Gitlitze” I quoted in my previous question, "“Battled-hardened,” Is this one of New Yorker's renowned idiosyncrasies?

“When we walked into the restaurant, we immediately saw her – my father’s battled-hardened nemesis; a waitress named Irene. She was standing in back by the kitchen, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, one hand on her hip.. She and my father locked eyes like two gunslingers stepping on to a dusty street. “There she blows” my father muttered. “Try not to excite yourself,” my mother said.”

I’m not clear with what “blow” in “There she blows” mean. It looks like a slang usage of the verb, blow.

I consulted with OALED at hand to try to find out a pertinent definition to this phrase and the situation of the story – “She was standing in back by the kitchen, a cigarette dangling from her mouth,” and found out the following definition at the top out of more than a dozen of usages.

  1. to send out air from the mouth.

Does “There she blows” mean “There she is smoking a cigarette,” or otherwise? Does “blow” here have a special implication? Is this a slang, or idiomatic expression?

Why did the mother of the author quickly react to this phrase of her husband by saying “Try not to excite yourself.”?

  • Can you also link to your previous question so people (ok, at least me) can see?
    – justhalf
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 2:58
  • 3
    It's a pun, the waitress is blowing out smoke as a whale "blows" out air from its blowhole, see image it does look like smoke coming out of the whale's nostril.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 4:14
  • @Mari-Lou A. Thanks for a helpful ilustration. Seeing is believing. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 4:46
  • 3
    While in this case it's a more literary allusion, in other contexts it could also imply that "she" is a whale - an insulting way to say she's overweight
    – Daenyth
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 15:13
  • 2
    I believe it's "Thar she blows"
    – Adsy
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 14:56

4 Answers 4


"Thar she blows" is what the lookout on a whaling ship would shout when he saw a whale surface and blow out its blowhole. It's used metaphorically in this case, probably with a vague allusion to the White Whale in Moby Dick, which was Ahab's nemesis; if the allusion is intentional (and I think it is), it means "I see my nemesis and am about to engage in a struggle with [her]."

  • 2
    Alas. Spout of the white whale in Moby Dick never came to my mind. It was beyond of my imagination and knowledge of Western culture and literature. Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 21:37
  • 4
    Cont. But the scene of a sturdy woman puffing cigarette exactly fits to the white whale’s spouting. Good description of the dad. Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 21:46
  • 3
    As in Tim Lymington's answer, "thar" in this case is just a dialect pronunciation of "there". (Even in my copy of Moby-Dick it is spelled "there".) Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 18:01
  • 4
    It can also be used as an insult especially if the woman in question is overweight. When I've read the question title the whale metaphor instantly came to my mind, and the image of the overweight woman was the first association before reading the "struggle with the nemesis" one.
    – vsz
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 18:24
  • 1
    @NateEldredge: I believe "thar" is the dialect as used in J. Ross Browne's Etchings of a Whaling Cruise, from 1846. Herman Melville wrote a review of the book in 1847 and included an excerpt in the "Extracts" section of Moby Dick (before Chapter One): "Ay Ay, sir! There she blows! there--there--THAR she blows--bowes--bo-o-os!"
    – Gabe
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 7:15

"There she blows" (or "Thar she blows!") was the traditional hail from a whaler's lookout, when he sighted the telltale spout of a whale, presaging a long battle leading to riches. This became common currency, partly no doubt through Moby Dick, to the point where it no longer matters whether it was actually used aboard ship, or indeed why whalers assumed all whales to be female; it is a picturesque way of saying 'Target in sight' or something similar.

  • 4
    I agree that while allusions to nemesis, smoking, blowing-up and/or weight could represent additional nuances to the context, the primary idea conveyed is "there is the person or thing I've been looking for (or expecting)"
    – mdisibio
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 17:29

In addition to the accepted answer (which is correct), the father may also have been using the metaphor to suggest that Irene was like a whale, i.e., fat.


Because of its source (i.e. whale spouting), "There she blows!" also has the connotation of someone or something erupting or exploding, either literally (a shaken soda bottle that sprays wildly when opened) or figuratively (a person with bottled-up rage or frustration that finally, suddenly erupts with fury).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.