Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998 16:19:51 -0400
From: Jesse T Sheidlower
Subject: wailing was:Re: P.S. on banshees

Andrea Vine wrote:

> Hmm, I tend to associate that with "whaling" rather than "wailing", though I
> truly don't know the origin. Does anyone know the origins of that "teen

There are two unrelated words which have fallen together, _whale_
meaning 'to thrash soundly' (often, confusingly, spelled _wail_),
used figuratively in a variety of positive senses, and _wail_ in
its familiar sense, used by jazz musicians to mean 'to perform in
an exciting or satisfying way', and also used figuratively in a
variety of positive senses. Once you get past the jazz period,
it's not possible to tell what comes from where.

Jesse Sheidlower
Random House Reference