Wolf whistling

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Wolf whistling

Post by Archived Topic » Fri Sep 03, 2004 8:53 am

In my younger years, while I was attending a boarding school in Malta, the headmaster accused me of wolf whistling at his secretary — an accusation I vehemently deny to this day, of course.

Does anyone know the origin of this expression?

Ahmed
BC, Canada
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Wolf whistling

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 9:08 am

From: M-W, 10th ed.

Main Entry: wolf whistle
Function: noun
Date: 1946
: a distinctive whistle sounded by a boy or man to express sexual admiration for a girl or woman in his vicinity

Probably originated from GI's coming home from WWII after having been deprived of the company of the "fairer" sex for four or more years. [Wherever do they get the expression "fairer" sex, as there is nothing fair about women]

NB: I have heard that the "wolf-whistle" is not the exclusive province of males, but that women sometimes use it to express approval of male hunkiness. This is obviously a folk tale as everyone knows that women can't whistle or spit properly!

Leif, WA, USA
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Wolf whistling

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 9:22 am

Thanks Leif. My understanding is that this phrase is one that originated from Britain.The only reason I am saying this is because I have heard it mostly said in Malta and England and not in North America. Furthermore, why is there
an animal associated with the whistling?
Ahmed
BC Canada

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Wolf whistling

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 9:37 am

Ahmed:

From the OED:

Entry Display wolf-whistle Also wolf whistle.
[f. wolf n. 5c + whistle n. 3.]


A distinctive whistle from a man expressing sexual admiration for a woman; also transf.


1952 Time 21 Jan. 29/3 No one took exception to U.S.N. wolf-whistles at the seoritas.

1953 N. Balchin Sundry Creditors 46 Some vulgar female person let out a low wolf-whistle as she passed him.

1958 Daily Express 13 Mar. 8/5 She heard one kid give a wolf whistle, and his chum exclaim: Coo, what a smashing car!

1960 A. Kimmins Lugs O'Leary i. 11 They passed the pretty probationer. Lugs gave her a low wolf whistle.

1971 New Scientist 29 Apr. 246/1 A young housewiferecently asked for a reduction in the rates of her residence because of nuisance from wolf-whistles.

1980 T. Hinde Daymare vi. 61 Bob Smiles whistles at hima hideous wolf-whistle.




Hence as v., to utter a wolf-whistle (at); wolf-whistling vbl. n. and ppl. a.


1955 Sun (Baltimore) 2 Sept. 1/5 The Governor of Mississippi today called for a complete investigation of the kidnap-killing of a Negro youth who allegedly wolf-whistled at a white woman.

1958 L. Little Dear Boys 222 They had their heads and shoulders hanging dangerously out of the windows [of a coach], wolf-whistling the odd bints on the pavements.

1958 Times 2 Sept. 11/7 Surrounded as I am by thousands of barking dogs, wailing cats, and wolf-whistling budgerigars.

1961 Wodehouse Ice in Bedroom 41 Dolly Molloy unquestionably took the eye. Wolf-whisting is of course prohibited in the lobby of Barribault's Hotel so none of those present attempted this form of homage.

1976 J. Grenfell Joyce Grenfell requests the Pleasure i. 17 An American sailor wolf-whistled at her.

1981 G. Petrie Tondeau of Chartres i. 19 Julie and Elaine took their bows to a cacophony of wolf-whistling.


It seems the OED is in some disagreement about the time of origin as well as being found in a U.S. magazine in 1952.

Please note the definition of wolf:

wolf (wʊlf)
n., pl. wolves (wʊlvz).

Either of two carnivorous mammals of the family Canidae, especially the gray wolf of northern regions, that typically live and hunt in hierarchical packs and prey on livestock and game animals.
*SNIP*
One that is regarded as predatory, rapacious, and fierce.
Slang. A man given to paying unwanted sexual attention to women.

Leif, as above


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Wolf whistling

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 9:51 am

Ahmed and Leif, As I checked some references I didn’t see anything further on country of origin. Did find the following info though:

The “wolf-whistle” or “wolf whistle is a subset of WOLF CALL which is “a whistle, shout, [[howl]]or the like uttered by a male in admiration of a female’s appearance” (Random House Unabridged, but no date given).

WOLF WHISTLE noun: [1945-50] 1) a call made by whistling, often characterized by two sliding sounds, a peal up higher and then one up to a lower note and down. 2) a similar whistle used by a man to express physical attraction to a woman (Random House Unabridged Dictionary).
____________________________________________________________________________________

A famous wolf call (verbal analog of the wolf whistle) when I was growing up and beyond was the exclamation and term of approval of a passing broad, I mean girl, I mean woman – you know what I mean! And this does have its origin with G.I.s of WW II (see ‘hubba hubba’ – posting # 4433):

HUBBA HUBBA (see posting # 4433): Slang: (an interjection or exclamation of admiration, approval, enthusiasm, and delight used esp. by G.I.'s of World War II as a shout in appreciation or calling attention to a sexually attractive or pretty girl.) [1940–45, ‘American; origin uncertain; much speculation has been devoted to the original sense and origin of this expression]. As I checked some references I didn’t see anything further on country of origin. Did find the following info though:
__________________________________________________________________________________

Paraphrased from Rawson’s Wicked Words

The only other thing I can add is that the ‘wolf ‘ in wolf whistle had from ancient times been a rapacious person, one who devours others, especially a man who preys (sexually) upon women or younger men. Cruel and predatory people have been characterized as wolves for well over a thousand years, and the sexual connotations of that term have been apparent for most of the time. The wolf was a symbol of lust in Elizabethan period and was used as such by Shakespeare.

The Reverend Cotton Mather, meanwhile, used the term in its modern lecherous sense in 1721, describing an Anglican clergyman, James Mc Sparran, as a ‘grievous wolf'. The Reverend MC Sparran earned the epithet with an awkward attempt to seduce a young women; she testified that “he put his Hand round my Waste, and shoved me along, and set me down on the bed. . . .[and told me] that if I went to Naraganset I should not come home a Maid again”. From not-so puritanical ‘wolves’ of this ilk we also have the verb TO WOLFE (here meaning ‘to seduce’ rather than ‘to gobble down food’); WOLF BAIT (an especially attractive morsel of femininity); and WOLF WHISTLE (an appreciative whistle, used both as a noun and a verb., e.g. “The governor of Mississippi today called for a complete investigation of the kidnap-killing of a Negro youth [Emmett Till], who allegedly wolf-whistled at a white woman” (AP, 9/2/55)).

The wolf that preys on men rather than women dates to at least World War I. “The sodomist, the degenerate, the homosexual ‘wolf’ ...” (New Republic 1/13/17)
__________________________________________________________________________________

The Oxford Dictionaries of Slang and Modern Slang say that the ‘wolf’ as a sexually aggressive man, a habitual would-be seducer of women, dates from 1847.
____________________________________________________________________________________

Ken G – May 11, 2003


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Wolf whistling

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 10:05 am

Thank you both for taking the time to provide me with this information.Thanks Ken for the detailed info. I must say that I did have some puppy love but not enough to devour her.
Ahmed
BC Canada
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Re: Wolf whistling

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Oct 22, 2015 11:01 pm

aaa
<2015 “. . . , but the fluorescent-jacketed workmen neither wolf-whistled nor cat-called with Strike [[a big tough-looking guy]] at Robin’s side.”—Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling), page 20>

In the above postings (of 2004) we pretty well covered the meaning of wolf-whistle, which was defined as “A distinctive whistle from a man expressing sexual admiration for a woman; also transferred sense”.

But Ahmed’s question was, “Does anyone know the origin of the phrase?” And in 2003, try as I might I could not find an origin. I thought it unlikely that wolves actually whistled, although they were known to howl, and less often to bark, hiss, and growl, and a few other things — but not whistle.

Now in 2015, however, through the magic of Wikipedia it appears that the origin has been revealed (well, maybe and maybe not). See paragraph 3 (below):

WIKIPEDIA

WOLF-WHISTLING

Wolf-whistling or finger whistling is a type of whistling in which fingers are inserted in the mouth to produce a louder and more penetrating tone.

A wolf-whistle is a two-toned sound (like 'whip-woo') commonly made using the above technique to show high interest or approval of something or someone (originally a young girl or woman thought to be physically or sexually attractive).

The wolf-whistle originates from the navy General Call made with a boatswain's pipe. The general call is made on a ship to get the attention of all hands for an announcement. Sailors in harbour would whistle the general call when seeing a pretty woman to draw fellow sailors' attention to her. It was eventually picked up by passers-by, not knowing the real meaning of the whistle, and passed on.
__________________

Now, the question is, are these articles being vetted by experts in the field – navy in this instance – or is it still the wild West out there where uncorroborated statements can be stated as fact? There is no citation to confirm this origin, so the only hope for its authenticity is that it has been vetted. The origin sounds reasonable, but then much of folk etymology does.

So, in conclusion, we either do or don’t know that this Wikipedia origin is correct. (<:)

Note: In the quote at the top from Galbraith’s book, the word cat-called is also used. I’ll take a look at that in a later posting.
______________________

Ken – October 22, 2015 (site sexual harassment adviser)
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Re: Wolf whistling

Post by Phil White » Tue Oct 27, 2015 10:10 pm

Even if the origin of the actual whistle melody is naval, we still don't know why "wolf" should be used to describe it.

I am always suspicious of naval origins in etymology, but this one seems plausible. Unless my memory totally fails me, all commands on the boatswain's whistle were prefixed with the "general call", which was a longer short note followed by a shorter high note (i.e. very much the same as the first half of the wolf whistle). The "all hands on deck" call was a long low note, a long high note and a fade, which is very similar to the second half of a wolf-whistle. Thus, as far as I understand it, the Wikipedia article is incorrect insofar as the "general call" is only the prefix to a command. The call that most resembles a wolf whistle would be the combination of the general call and the all hands on deck call. (Thank you my old scoutmaster "Bos'n" for that useless lump of information from almost 50 years ago now that I never thought I would need.) Sadly, I can't find an audio clip of boatswain's calls on the Web.

But it still does not explain "wolf". The predator idea is possible, but tenuous.

Google's ngram makes the dating absolutely clear. There is nothing whatsoever before the '40s, followed by a veritable explosion.

The most interesting one I could find was from LIFE, 26 November 1945. In the charts on page 94, the "wolf whistle sounded by humans" is explicitly contrasted with the cry of the wolf. The bottom chart of the "wolf whistle" clearly shows the initial sharp rise and short fall followed by the flatter rise and long decaying fall of the second part. This latter part of the whistle is indeed very similar to the rise and fall of the wolf cry. I just wonder whether we aren't trying too hard. The wolf whistle is called a wolf whistle at least partly because it rises and falls like a wolf cry.

Of the many dozens of bizarre sounds that emanate from wolves, there is an occasional distinct "wolf whistle" pattern. Listen to this clip at around 2:32. Or this clip at about 17 seconds, which is even clearer.

I have to say that, of all the research I have done to contribute to Wordwizard threads over the years, listening to clips of wolves crying for about half an hour has been among the most enjoyable. Wonderful creatures. My bucket list has "spend a few months in Montana" on it, partly to listen to wolves.
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Re: Wolf whistling

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Oct 28, 2015 3:29 pm

aaa
Phil, I commend you on a really nice piece of research.
_______________________

Ken — October 28, 2015

PS: Not directly related but a book I recently read and which you might enjoy is The Animal Dialogues — Uncommon encounters in the Wild by Craig Childs.
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Re: Wolf whistling

Post by Phil White » Wed Oct 28, 2015 5:02 pm

I have to say, the older I get, and the more I come to understand my own little wolf (although she would rightly object - she is her own little wolf, not mine), the more inclined I am to believe that the only vermin that needs exterminating on this planet is the human species.

I remember a few years back watching the David Attenborough documentary on the story of Lobo. It reduced me to a snivelling wreck. You may be able to get it on Youtube in your region.

The Animal Dialogues looks good, but sadly I can't find an audio book or Braille version. Having said that, the Braille is still going very slowly. I am much more confident in my reading, but the speed is still painful!

Looking around after I posted yesterday, I came across this page that covers much the same ground as our discussion here but has an embedded clip of the immortal scene with Bogart and Bacall from "To have and have not". There is simply no other sound a male can make when faced with Bacall looking drop-dead wonderful.

Sadly, the link to the "General Call" on that page (in the comments) is dead.

But I did at least find confirmation that my memory had not deserted me. This clip demonstrates "all hands on deck" on the boatswain's call, at about 2:35.
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Re: Wolf whistling

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Oct 28, 2015 8:47 pm

Wasn't a randy predatory bloke called a wolf once upon a time?
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Re: Wolf whistling

Post by Phil White » Wed Oct 28, 2015 9:07 pm

Indeed, Bob. As Leif said in his second post:
Slang. A man given to paying unwanted sexual attention to women.
And from Ken's first post:
The only other thing I can add is that the ‘wolf ‘ in wolf whistle had from ancient times been a rapacious person, one who devours others, especially a man who preys (sexually) upon women or younger men. Cruel and predatory people have been characterized as wolves for well over a thousand years, and the sexual connotations of that term have been apparent for most of the time. The wolf was a symbol of lust in Elizabethan period and was used as such by Shakespeare.

The Reverend Cotton Mather, meanwhile, used the term in its modern lecherous sense in 1721, describing an Anglican clergyman, James Mc Sparran, as a ‘grievous wolf'. The Reverend MC Sparran earned the epithet with an awkward attempt to seduce a young women; she testified that “he put his Hand round my Waste, and shoved me along, and set me down on the bed. . . .[and told me] that if I went to Naraganset I should not come home a Maid again”. From not-so puritanical ‘wolves’ of this ilk we also have the verb TO WOLFE (here meaning ‘to seduce’ rather than ‘to gobble down food’); WOLF BAIT (an especially attractive morsel of femininity); and WOLF WHISTLE (an appreciative whistle, used both as a noun and a verb., e.g. “The governor of Mississippi today called for a complete investigation of the kidnap-killing of a Negro youth [Emmett Till], who allegedly wolf-whistled at a white woman” (AP, 9/2/55)).
Ignoring that allowed me to digress pleasantly on wolves, which fascinate and arouse me almost as much as Lauren Bacall. Haaaooowwwl!
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Re: Wolf whistling

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Nov 01, 2015 1:09 pm

I don't think our wild dog, the dingo or warragul, can whistle. Some say they just eat babies.

WoZ the doubter
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