Recently, I’ve seen the word “whoa” written as “woah” or even “whoah” several times. A little research shows that many people are confused over a word that is as natural to us as breathing. In fact, whoa is quite an ancient word and the spelling that’s developed may have to do with where you live.
I’ve always loved etymology (the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.). It was something my grandfather loved to investigate. In fact, he had an Oxford English Dictionary in his study and we would frequently look up words together.
So here’s a round up of what I’ve learned about whoa.
According to Wiktionary,
Whoa (c. 1843) is a variant of woa (c. 1840), itself a variant of wo (c. 1787), from who (c. 1450), ultimately from Middle English ho, hoo (interjection), probably from Old Norse hó! (interjection, also, a shepherd’s call). Compare German ho, Old French ho ! (“hold!, halt!”).
Dictionary.com says whoa was first recorded in 1615–25.
And “Brian” on the Internet, wrote this (without sources but consistent with what I’ve read)
Actually, “Whoa” and “Woah” are separated in common usage only by about a decade, and both have been commonly used since the middle 1800s. Both are variants of “woa”, around since the 1840s. “Woa” itself is a variant of “Wo” from the late 1700s, deriving from the interjection (not pronoun) “Who”, which has been around since the middle 1400s. “Whoa” predates “Woah” by about ten years. But, (perhaps) interestingly, it depends on which English speaking country you live in as to which is considered “standard”. “Woah” is the favored spelling in the UK, while both spellings are in common use in the US. Both are correct, so use whichever you like. Or, if you want to get REALLY “correct” (and by that I mean ridiculously anal retentive), just go back to “Wo”. Apparently that’s when the “dumbing down” started.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, which quotes the Oxford English Dictionary (probably the most definitive source),
The earliest spelling of the sound in English is “ho,” and traces to about 1374, the Oxford English Dictionary says. It’s also been spelled “whoo,” “who,” whoe, “whoh,” “wogh,” “woa,” etc. The “whoa” spelling first showed up around 1467, the OED says, though the verb form wasn’t recorded until about 1840.
Looking at usage of whoa vs. woah on the Internet, you can see that the trending toward woah is recent — although that could just be fueled by memes and texting. The website http://www.fivethirtyeight.com is a website focuses on opinion poll analysis, politics, economics, and also created “interactives” that graph the data they discover. Here’s their tracking analysis on Whoa vs. Woah.
The Wall Street Journal also reports an uptick in the use of woah among younger people, who say only “old folks” use whoa.
Since 2014, woah has more than tripled in online news stories, and it now makes up about 30% of total usage, up from 19% at that time, according to the News on the Web corpus, a database containing 8.4 billion words published in online news stories. On Google Trends, which tracks the frequency of search engine terms, woah has been the more dominant term in basic Web and YouTube searches for two years.
So, are you #teamwhoa? or #teamwoah? And where in the world do you live? I’m firmly in the Whoa category myself.