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Give 'em "what for". Show 'em "what for".

Posted by Jim on January 23, 2002

In Reply to: Give 'em "what for". Show 'em "what for". posted by R. Berg on January 21, 2002

: : Does anyone know where this phrase come from? I've wondered for years.

: I don't know where, but Partridge says when:
: "'give what for'; occ. 'what's what.' (With dative.) To beat, thrash; scold, reprimand: coll., the former C. 19-20, the latter C.20 and gen. jocular" (A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English).

: In my imagination, it started in a dialogue between a parent and a child:

: MA: Johnny, go feed the chickens and then bring in a load of firewood.
: JOHNNY: What for?
: MA: Do it or I'll give you what for!

A true master of the clever come back (a parent in other words) will respond:

JOHNNY: What for?!

MA: For a while, that's what for.

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