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It’s not what you think…

Carl_Larsson_Model_writing_postcards_1906

What ho chaps! What ho, what ho, what ho! I have a day off, and I ought to be bent dutifully over my Christmas card list. But no! A pox on it! I shall write them in the traditional manner late on Christmas Eve, so that my nearest and dearest have something to look forward to in the New Year.

I will write a post instead about what.

At the risk of sounding like Abbott and Costello, what is an interesting word.

You can say hello with it as in ‘Wotcha!’ which I have just discovered dates back hundreds of years According to the Urban Dictionary, ‘wotcha’ is a contraction of: ‘What chere/cheer be with you?’, which was a common greeting . Chere/cheer meant ‘face’ and thus referred to a person’s expression of their mood.

Person a: ‘hello!’

Person b: ‘wotcha!’

‘What’ is used a lot in greetings. What’s up? What ho? What news upon the Rialto? (The last comes from a Shakespearean inquiry about two for one cinema nights)

Then there’s the tired teenager’s method of dealing with parental rage:

Parent: I am not a taxi driver, this is not a hotel, that bedroom is a health hazard…

Teenager: Whatever*

(For Essex teenagers, this is contracted to whatevs.)

Then there is, What what? An archaic, upper class, expression used to prompt an agreement. As in, ‘Awfully chilly tonight, what what? Is it always like this at the North Pole?’

(What what is easily interchangeable with the expression, donchernow)

You can express dismay and amazement with the term, Do what? As in,

Person a: Your mother has run off with the gas man and Arsenal lost at home to Redditch United.

Person b: Do what?

What seems to have been in existence before 900. And its great granny and grandad was the Old English hwaet, and Old Norse hvat.

So there you go. Eh, what?

Image via Creative Commons, courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Carl_Larsson_Model_writing_postcards_1906.jpg

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