Whoa or Woah?

C.B. from Malibu, California, wrote, "How do we stop people from spelling 'whoa' as 'woah'? Please tell me when this misspelling started. Even professional websites misspell it."

Mignon Fogarty
1-minute read

Whoa or Woah?

I don't know how the misspelling started, but a 2004 entry for woah on Urban Dictionary proves that it's at least a decade old, and a Google Ngram search shows much older occasional misspellings.

Here's a way to remember the proper spelling: Who and ho are two origins that are often cited for whoa. For example, Dictionary.com states that ho came first as a Middle English command to make a horse stop and then evolved sometime around 1620 into whoa. To remember how to spell whoa, remember that the original word—ho, something you'd say to a horse—stays intact in the middle.

Also, in 1616 in the play "The Winter's Tale," William Shakespeare had a character known only as Shepherd call out "Whoa-ho-hoa!" Say it in your mind: whoa-ho-hoa. Say it loudly like Santa Claus: whoa-ho-hoa! The extra hos after the whoa should also help you remember to keep the ho in the middle.

2/27/2018: Here's a fascinating follow-up: "Woah" is more common and accepted in Britain than it is in the US, according to Lynne Murphy's research on the Separated by a Common Language blog.

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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