Blow the whistle and whistle-blower

Blow the whistle and whistle-blower are idioms that came into use in the twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the phrase blow the whistle and word whistle-blower, where they came from, and some examples of their use in sentences.

Blow the whistle means to call attention to wrongdoing, to report something illegal, or to make public something that is underhanded. The idiom blow the whistle came into use in the 1920s-1930s and is derived from the fact that policemen blew whistles when in pursuit of a suspected criminal and sports referees blew whistles to officiate games. Related phrases are blows the whistle, blew the whistle, blowing the whistle.

A whistle-blower is the person who calls attention to wrongdoing, reports something illegal, or makes public something that is underhanded. Many countries have laws that protect whistle-blowers from retaliation. The word whistle-blower came into use in the 1960s-1970s, and was particularly promoted by the American consumer activist, Ralph Nader. Note that whistle-blower is a compound word. The Oxford English Dictionary renders it with a hyphen; however, most other dictionaries render it as a closed compound word, without the hyphen: whistleblower.


Nurses and nursing assistants, meanwhile, are terrified that if they blow the whistle, they’ll lose their jobs. (The Guardian)

But, since the dawn of the new dispensation, the government has encouraged members of the public to blow the whistle against crime and corruption as a means to support democracy and build a just society. (The Independent)

A recent court ruling that put additional skids on the already stalled Rosemont Mine is turning out to be at least a partial victory for the jaguar and a clear defeat for a federal biologist who became an environmentalist hero a year ago when he blew the whistle on another big Southern Arizona issue. (The Arizona Daily Star)

The move came after a whistleblower complaint raised alarms last month about Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s handling of an alleged COVID-19 outbreak among its staff. (The Mercury News)

Federal investigators have found “reasonable grounds” that a government whistleblower was punished for speaking out against widespread use of an unproven drug that President Donald Trump touted as a remedy for COVID-19, his lawyers said Friday. (Time Magazine)

Congressional Republicans continued their assault on Beijing on Thursday, launching a campaign to change the address of its embassy in Washington in honour of the late coronavirus whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang, and announcing the establishment of a party-led “China task force” in the House of Representatives. (The South China Morning Post)

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