blow the whistle

verb (used without object), whis·tled, whis·tling.

  1. to make a clear musical sound, a series of such sounds, or a high-pitched, warbling sound by the forcible expulsion of the breath through a small opening formed by contracting the lips, or through the teeth, with the aid of the tongue.
  2. to make such a sound or series of sounds otherwise, as by blowing on some device.
  3. to emit similar sounds from the mouth, as birds do.
  4. (of a device) to produce a similar sound when actuated by steam or the like: This teakettle whistles when it boils.
  5. to move, go, pass, etc., with a whistling or whizzing sound, as a bullet or the wind.

verb (used with object), whis·tled, whis·tling.

  1. to produce by whistling: to whistle a tune.
  2. to call, direct, or signal by or as by whistling: He whistled his dog over.
  3. to send with a whistling or whizzing sound.


  1. an instrument for producing whistling sounds by means of the breath, steam, etc., as a small wooden or tin tube, a pipe, or a similar device with an air chamber containing a small ball that oscillates when air is forced through an opening, producing a high-pitched, warbling tone.
  2. a sound produced by whistling: a prolonged whistle of astonishment.
  3. a simple fipple flute.

Verb Phrases

  1. whistle for, to demand or expect without success: After promising to pay, he told us we could whistle for our money.
  1. blow the whistle, to expose the existence of mischief or wrongdoing: The agent was taking bribes until someone finally blew the whistle.
  2. blow the whistle on,
    1. to bring a stop to; halt: Congress has blown the whistle on all unnecessary expenditures for the program.
    2. to expose (wrongdoing or wrongdoers): to blow the whistle on corruption in high places.
  3. wet one’s whistle, Informal. to take a drink.
  4. whistle in the dark, to attempt to summon up one’s courage or optimism in a difficult situation: He says his business will improve next year, but he’s probably just whistling in the dark.


  1. to produce (shrill or flutelike musical sounds), as by passing breath through a narrow constriction most easily formed by the pursed lipshe whistled a melody
  2. (tr) to signal, summon, or command by whistling or blowing a whistlethe referee whistled the end of the game
  3. (of a kettle, train, etc) to produce (a shrill sound) caused by the emission of steam through a small aperture
  4. (intr) to move with a whistling sound caused by rapid passage through the air
  5. (of animals, esp birds) to emit (a shrill sound) resembling human whistling
  6. whistle in the dark to try to keep up one’s confidence in spite of fear


  1. a device for making a shrill high-pitched sound by means of air or steam under pressure
  2. a shrill sound effected by whistling
  3. a whistling sound, as of a bird, bullet, the wind, etc
  4. a signal, warning, command, etc, transmitted by or as if by a whistle
  5. the act of whistling
  6. music any pipe that is blown down its end and produces sounds on the principle of a flue pipe, usually having as a mouthpiece a fipple cut in the side
  7. wet one’s whistle informal to take an alcoholic drink
  8. blow the whistle (usually foll by on) informal
    1. to inform (on)
    2. to bring a stop (to)

“tubular musical instrument,” Old English hwistle (see whistle (v.)). To wet one’s whistle “take a drink” (late 14c.) originally may have referred to pipes, or be an allusion to the throat as a sort of pipe. Phrase clean as a whistle is recorded from 1878. Railroad whistle stop (at which trains stop only if the engineer hears a signal from the station) is recorded from 1934.


Old English hwistlian, from Proto-Germanic *khwis-, of imitative origin. Used also in Middle English of the hissing of serpents. Related: Whistled; whistling. To whistle for (with small prospect of getting) is probably from nautical whistling for a wind. To whistle “Dixie” is from 1940.

In addition to the idioms beginning with whistle

  • whistle Dixie
  • whistle for
  • whistle in the dark

also see:

  • blow the whistle on
  • clean as a whistle
  • slick as a whistle
  • wet one’s whistle

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