‘A Whale of a Time’: Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on December 13, 2023

What does it mean to have 'a whale of a time'? If you've been wondering the same thing, you're in the right place. In this article, you'll learn the idiom's meaning, its origins, and how to use it in a sentence.

If you just want to know what it means, here's the short version:

  • When someone says they're having 'a whale of a time', it means they're really enjoying themselves.

What Does 'A Whale of a Time' Mean?

The expression 'a whale of a time' is an excellent example of how idioms can't be taken literally. Don't worry; no actual whales were harmed while this article was being made. In fact, no whales are involved at all; it's just a metaphor.

  • It's an informal idiom in English that means having a great, enjoyable, and exciting time.
  • It's a positive expression used to describe a highly enjoyable or memorable experience.

Because whales are so big, they've long been used as a metaphor for grandiosity. If people wanted to talk about how big something is, they would often insert the noun 'whale' in front of it. Nowadays, that's not so common, and this idiom seems to be one of the only expressions using a whale that remains.

So how do you use it? Imagine, for example, that you went to an amusement park with your friend. When you get home, your mom asks you if you enjoyed yourself.

You might say:

We had a whale of a time! We rode rollercoasters all day, we had so much fun.

Note that this idiom is often used with the verb 'have,' which can appear in different tenses, including:

Where Does 'A Whale of a Time' Come From?

As I mentioned earlier, the word 'whale' has often been used as an intensifier to describe something big. Look at this example from an 1832 newspaper publication:

They fib by equivocation — they don’t come plump out, with a tremendous whaler of a fib, but seek to do it by equivocation and confusion of words and ideas, but, in any way, it is all fibbing.

Later, it started being used as a way to say you really liked something or were good at it, as you can see from this extract of a 1918 William McFee book:

I don’t think it was all gallantry that made me do what I did. I’d never been a whale on that sort of thing.

However, the expression as we know it started becoming mainstream in the latter part of the 19th century. One of the first examples in print I could find was in an 1871 edition of the newspaper The Emporia News:

The Teutons do not go half-way and stop in any matter of this kind. They never have a time, but they have a whale of a time.

This phrase is part of a larger group of idiomatic expressions in English that use animals or other objects to describe the quality or nature of an experience. Other examples include "a dog's life" (referring to a difficult or unpleasant life) and "a piece of cake" (referring to something that's very easy).

Examples in Sentences

Now that we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, here are some example sentences that use it.

We had a whale of a time at the amusement park riding all the thrilling roller coasters.

The children had a whale of a time playing in the snow, building snowmen and having snowball fights.

Sarah and John had a whale of a time at their wedding, dancing the night away with family and friends.

Despite the rain, we had a whale of a time at the outdoor music festival, enjoying the live performances.

The class had a whale of a time during the field trip to the science museum, exploring all the interactive exhibits.

When we went on vacation, we had a whale of a time snorkeling and exploring the coral reefs.

The kids had a whale of a time at the birthday party, with games, a magic show, and a clown.

We had a whale of a time at the concert, singing along to our favorite songs and cheering for the band.

Mark had a whale of a time at the cooking class, learning to prepare a gourmet three-course meal.

The group had a whale of a time on their hiking adventure, taking in the stunning mountain views and camping under the stars. 

Other Ways to Say 'A Whale of a Time'

There are plenty of other ways to say you're having an amazing time. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases.

  • Party it up
  • Paint the town red
  • Have a high old-time
  • Let one's hair down
  • Live it up
  • Have a blast
  • Have a ball
  • Having the time of your life

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when someone says they are having a whale of a time, it means they are enjoying themselves very much.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!   

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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