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I grew up military and my dad used to 'whale the tar' out of us kids with a wooden spoon.
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To whale (as a verb) means:

  1. To hunt for whales.
  2. To flog, to beat (hard and fast, with minimal control).

In the second usage, it can be used in figurative expressions such as "to whale (something) out of" somebody. For example, in a Donald Duck comic strip he speaks of "whaling the blazes out of" his nephews, meaning severe spankings. The most common variant seems to be "to whale the tar out of", and "to whale the daylights out of" someone.

"To whale" always implys a fast, continuous series of many strokes. It can not be used to refer to a single stroke, such as a (one) whack.

Although the word is not to be confused with the homophone "to wail" (to make a prolonged cry, to howl), the idiom "to whale on" (to beat heavily on anything) can also be spelled "to wail on".

See also[edit]