The word whiffenpoof can refer to:
- an imaginary or indefinite animal; e.g. "the great-horned whiffenpoof;"
- a device used for tracking exercises;
- the Whiffenpoof Fish that forms the subject of a piece of comic dialogue in Victor Herbert's 1908 operetta, Little Nemo;
- The Whiffenpoofs, the Yale University singing group, founded in 1909 and named after the imaginary beast in the operetta;
- a stereotypic Yale alumnus or Ivy Leaguer
Imaginary or indefinite animal
|“||Therefore I have scant patience with the type of argument in rebuttal—on either side—that says in effect: "You say the whiffenpoof is—or is not—protectively coloured. Now the other day I was out, and I saw—or did not see—a whiffenpoof, etc." ||”|
|“||the ringtailed whiffenpoof and the four-wheeled skeezicks are languishing in confinement...||”|
|“||Still-hunting offers the purest forest experience. In a stand or blind, you can hear the cry of the whiffenpoof, the tap-tap-tap of the redheaded woodpecker, the scurry of the field mouse, and the sound of a hunting partner going grunt.||”|
"Whiffenpoof" has been used as a joking fictitious name for a member of the upper crust; a 1922 Philadelphia newspaper columnist writes of an opera performance attended by "Mrs. T. Whiffenpoof Oscarbilt, Mr. and Mrs. Dudbadubb Dodo and [their] three dashing daughters who have just finished a term at Mrs. Pettiduck's School for Incorrigibles at Woodfern-by-the-Sea."
"Whiffenpoof" is also a more obscure name for a tracking device used in the 1940s and 50's. It is a large, cylinder-shaped log that has several dozen nails driven all the way around the sides of it, sticking out approximately two inches. There are also railroad spikes driven into the ends of the log, which create an effective way to carry it.
For the exercises, a rope would be tied around the log, and it would be dragged throughout various woodlands, creating a trail of sorts. The trackers would then attempt to follow the markings, and eventually locate the Whiffenpoof. They would bring it back as proof that they had successfully tracked it.
In Victor Herbert's Little Nemo
One reviewer of the 1908 operetta gave a paragraph of praise to the comic hunting tales presented in a scene in which three hunters are trying to outdo each other with hunting stories about the "montimanjack," the "peninsula," and the "whiffenpoof." He calls it "one of the funniest yarns ever spun" and compares it favorably to Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark.
The Word is also referred in one of the Little Nemo comic strips published in 1909 (April 11). After being held down by nine policemen during a hysteria crisis, Nemo’s father tells the doctor: “Just keep those whiffenpoofs away. Will you?”.
The Yale Whiffenpoofs
According to Whiffenpoof historian James M. Howard:
|“||It was Goat Fowler who suggested we call ourselves The Whiffenpoofs. He had been tickled by the patter of one of the characters in a Victor Herbert musical comedy called "Little Nemo" which recently been running on Broadway. In a scene in which there was great boasting of terrific exploits in big game hunting and fishing, comedian Joseph Cawthorne told a fantastic tale of how he had caught a Whiffenpoof fish. It seems that Cawthorn had coined the word some years before when he and a fellow actor were amusing themselves by making up nonsense verses. One they particularly liked began: "A drivaling grilyal yandled its flail, One day by a Whiffenpoof's grave." Cawthorn recalled the verse in making up his patter for "Little Nemo" and put it into his act.
Whether the word meant fish, flesh or fowl was irrelevant to our purpose when we chose it as our name. "Whiffenpoof" fitted in with our mood of free and exuberant fancy and it was adopted with enthusiasm.
As a character stereotype
For Yale graduates, The Whiffenpoof Song is replete with nostalgia. Thus, "whiffenpoof" can refer to a college alumnus who, figuratively, is too willing to sing his college song in public:
|“||Billy was the reason words like "whiffenpoof" were coined, the type of guy who had a favorite drink and a favorite toast, the type who could tell, by the spelling of your last name, where you summered and to what country club you belonged, if you belonged at all.||”|
Woofen-poof, a fictional bird
- Tryon, Henry Harrington. "The Whiffenpoof." Fearsome Critters. (Cornwall, NY: Idlewild Press, 1939)
- Steward Edward White (1915). The Rediscovered Country. Doubleday, Page., p. 336
- "Sees Jack O Lantern despite Prohibition," The Lexington Herald, January 28, 1920, p. 14; a story about a "flickering white light" reported by two tobacco workers
- Buck Peterson (2006). Buck Peterson's Complete Guide to Deer Hunting. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 1-58008-738-8.
- "The Once Over At the Opera;" The Philadelphia Inquirer,; November 20, 1922; p. 17
- "Some Dramatic Notes," The [Duluth] Sunday News Tribune, November 15, 1908, p. 4
- Gerald Boardman, American Musical Theatre, A Chronicle, as cited by Jim Davis (February 18, 2006). "Cracker Jack Gobbler". Retrieved 2008-07-30.
- Galt Niederhoffer (2006). A Taxonomy of Barnacles. Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-42651-8.
- Maureen Dowd (May 27, 2001). "Liberties; No Whiff of Poof". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-30.