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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[edit]

Particularly among hunters, "whiffenpoof" can be a tongue-in-cheek name for imaginary animal[1] like the jackalope, or a placeholder name for an animal (analogous to "thingamajig"):

"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."[5]

Tracking device[edit]

"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[edit]

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.[6]

One source indicates that the dialogue in fact began as an ad lib by actor Joseph Cawthorn, covering for some kind of backstage problem during a performance.[7]

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[edit]

According to Whiffenpoof historian James M. Howard:

The group admired a musical setting of Rudyard Kipling's poem, "Gentlemen-Rankers," that was performed by another Yale singing group, and adapted its lyrics to create The Whiffenpoof Song.

As a character stereotype[edit]

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:

Maureen Dowd, in a satirical article, refers to Prescott Bush (Yale '17) as a "Whiffenpoof."[9]

See also[edit]

Woofen-poof, a fictional bird


  1. ^ Tryon, Henry Harrington. "The Whiffenpoof." Fearsome Critters. (Cornwall, NY: Idlewild Press, 1939)
  2. ^ Steward Edward White (1915). The Rediscovered Country. Doubleday, Page. , p. 336
  3. ^ "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
  4. ^ Buck Peterson (2006). Buck Peterson's Complete Guide to Deer Hunting. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 1-58008-738-8. 
  5. ^ "The Once Over At the Opera;" The Philadelphia Inquirer,; November 20, 1922; p. 17
  6. ^ "Some Dramatic Notes," The [Duluth] Sunday News Tribune, November 15, 1908, p. 4
  7. ^ Gerald Boardman, American Musical Theatre, A Chronicle, as cited by Jim Davis (February 18, 2006). "Cracker Jack Gobbler". Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  8. ^ Galt Niederhoffer (2006). A Taxonomy of Barnacles. Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-42651-8. 
  9. ^ Maureen Dowd (May 27, 2001). "Liberties; No Whiff of Poof". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-30.