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Nov 11 2012   7:22PM GMT

Whoa or woah?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
_____ Over 25 percent of the time, this word is misspelled online.

a. Whoa!
b. Woah!

Answer: a.

Explanation:
Whoa means hold it and is commonly used to express amazement. The word originated as a command to a horse to stop or slow down. Then there’s gee, gee ho, gee haw… Gee probably originated as go ye and haw as here. So gee haw means go ye here. (And that means either go right or go left, depending on the driving convention in your particular country.)

In her blog, separated by a common language, Lynne Murphy (@lynneguist) details the history of whoa and variants:

The OED lists woah as a variant of woa which is a variant of whoa, which is a variant of the interjection who (not to be confused with the pronounwho–the interjection is pronounced as wo–which is also a variant of all these), which came into the language as a variant of ho! Here are the dates of the OED’s quotations for these spellings of the pronunciation /wo/ when it means ‘stop!':

who c.1450-1859
wo 1787-1894
woa 1840-1892
woah 1856 (one example–included under the headword woa)
whoa 1843-1898 (but, of course, we know it’s still used)

There’s more: 

William Safire speculated that yee-haw derives from gee haw.

Cowboy Bob explains traditional horse commands.

Loveee is another common misspelling online.

***

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  • Anglecynn
    Also, "Gee up!" in the UK, when urging a horse forward.
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