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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."

By
Mignon Fogarty,

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 the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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