In Fine Whack

out of whack

Have you ever heard or read of something being out of whack? Or maybe you use this expression yourself. If so, have you wondered what a whack might be and how you can be out of one?

Well, the other day I saw this phrases in an email and it got me thinking about where it comes from, and also whether there’s a positive version of it.

According to the Free Dictionary, out of whack means:

  1. Not or no longer working or functioning properly.
    e.g. The computer is totally out of whack
  2. In a disordered or chaotic state.
    e.g. My whole day has been thrown out of whack by this accident
  3. Not or no longer feeling good or normal; depressed or melancholy.
    e.g. It’s important to get some sunshine and fresh air each day, or else you start feeling out of whack

According to World Wide Words, whack may be onomatopoeic origin, and may have developed from thwack. In the 18th century it meant “a share of a booty obtained by fraud” and was originally thieves’ slang, according to Francis Grose’s 1785 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. He also mentions a Paddy whack, which he defines as a “stout brawny Irishman”.

Paddywhack also means an appearance in the traditional English nursery rhyme and counting song This Old Man:

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Irishmen in this case, but just fits with the tune and the rhyme.

Other phrases featuring whack include:

  • To pay top/full whack = to pay the maximum price for sth
  • To have a whack at sth = To try to / atempt to do sth

Then there’s in fine whack, which was apparently used in the 19th century to mean “in good condition or excellent fettle”. So there is a positive version of out of whack.

The word wacky / whacky apparently comes from whack, and means “someone who whacked their head onto something often, hence being weird” [source]

Are you feeling in fine whack, or are things a bit out of whack for you?

Do you have other ways to say something is out of whack or in in fine whack?

One thought on “In Fine Whack

  1. It seems, then, that when we say that something is out of wack, we are saying that it did not get its full share–of energy to be able to function, or care to enable the correct running of a machine, of health or energy… whatever is needed to function well.

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