Crack the Whip – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Whenever I hear the phrase “crack the whip” or the sound that often accompanies it, I always think of that episode of Friends where they make fun of Chandler for not being able to make the crack-whipping sound.

But the phrase isn’t just for entertainment; it has an old meaning that influences its usage today. So, hang tight and read on as I explain the proper way you should use the phrase “crack the whip.”

Meaning of “Crack the Whip”

Crack the Whip Origin Meaning

To say “crack the whip” means to exercise authority or control over someone in an attempt to make them work harder or at least more efficiently. It usually comes with a strict or demanding tone, involving pressure and threats to encourage people to work at a certain level.

But that’s the serious version of the meaning.

Normally, we use it in a more relaxed manner, still showing our need for others to speed up or work harder but in a humorous way.

And it can be used in a non-work or non-productive context, too. For example, in relationships, when one partner seems more controlling than the other, those in their circle might say they’re “whipped” or their partner “cracks the whip.”

Origin or Etymology of “Crack the Whip”

I’ve seen some sources state that “crack the whip” derives from the era of slavery, coming from the way some slave owners would literally whip their workers to push harder. But that’s not the case here.

The idiom “crack the whip” actually gets its origins from the literal act of cracking a whip, traditionally used by horse-drawn carriage drivers, circus ringmasters, and cattle herders to control animals and direct their movements. The cracking sound of the whip told the animals to listen, halt, or speed up.

What Can I Say Instead of “Crack the Whip”?

If you don’t feel comfortable using the phrase for fear of being associated with the idea of whips in slavery, then use any of these expressions instead:

  • Enforce discipline
  • Lay down the law
  • Keep on a tight leash
  • Demand obedience
  • Assert authority
  • Drive someone hard
  • Work like a dog

Examples of “Crack the Whip” in a Sentence

Crack the Whip Origin Meaning 1
  • Ugh, our project manager decided to crack the whip on us about this upcoming deadline, and now we’re all stressed.
  • Sometimes I have to metaphorically crack the whip to get my kids to complete their chores at the end of the week.
  • The soccer coach cracked the whip during practice, pushing the team of young players to do their best and win the game.
  • After the old manager was fired for being too friendly with the staff, the new manager cracked the whip and got everyone doing their jobs.
  • To meet the company’s ambitious goals, the CEO cracked the whip and set forth impossible deadlines.


Using the idiom “crack the whip” is a good way to point out how someone might be too bossy or controlling when it comes to getting things done. You can also use it lightly to show how someone might be in a relationship with uneven scales. Either way, play around and see how you can work the phrase “crack the whip” into everyday conversation or writing.