I recently received this email from a friend:
"What is whack?" If something is out of control, you want control. If something is out of alignment, you want alignment. If something is out of sync, you want it to be in sync. If something is out of commission, you want it to be in commission. If something is out of tune, you want it to be in tune. So, if something is out of whack, do you want it to be in whack? And, what is whack?
I have frequently referred to something being "out of whack," but I have to admit I had never thought about the actual meaning of "whack" used in this way.
Partially out of wanting to keep my reputation as a grammar guru and partly out of pure curiosity, I went into action. Within five minutes I found the answer and replied to my friend's e-mail:
"Whack" is "proper order or shape." "Whack," as used in your e-mail, is not a slang word. It is a legitimate word that has been used in the English language since at least 1736, the first known example of the word being used in literature. "Whack" has many other definitions: some are slang, and some are "R" rated. No -- I did not get this information from the Internet.
I added that bit at the end because, at least where grammar is concerned, there is a lot of bogus information online. But I was curious about what I could find on the Internet about "whack."
So, after I sent my e-mail, I Googled "What is whack?" and got 790 search results. At the top of the search were five definitions using "whack" in the traditional sense of "a sharp or resounding blow." I could not find a single definition used in the sense it was used in my friend's e-mail. And there were 785 obscene, crude, tacky, provocative, weird, and just plain "wacky" uses and definitions of "whack."
After spending nearly half an hour using my computer to learn more about whack, I contacted several professional acquaintances, asking them where I should go to the find the definition of "whack." Every one of them said: "Look it up on the Internet."
Computers are great. In many instances, they are timesavers. But sometimes they take more time than they save. Every once in a while, it is all right for us to be reminded that there are other ways to do things and to get answers than by using a computer.
You may be wondering how I found the information about "whack" so quickly that I was able to answer my friend's e-mail in five minutes. I just turned to "whack" in my Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and there it was.
Next time your computer's out of whack, let it be an opportunity to get your mind back in-whack!
Follow William B. Bradshaw on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BradshawBud