‘Give It a Whirl’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on June 25, 2023

Did someone use the phrase 'give It a whirl,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

‘Give it a whirl’ is an idiom that means to attempt, try, or test something.

In short:

  • It means to give something a try.

What Does 'Give It a Whirl' Mean?

The idiom ‘give it a whirl’ means to try, test, or attempt something.

For example, let’s say you ran into your friend on the street, and he got a new bicycle. He might encourage you to take a quick ride on the bike by saying, “Go ahead, ‘give it a whirl’!”

  • Essentially, you can use this idiom in the same way you would use ‘give it a try’ or ‘give it a go.’

The word ‘whirl’ on its own has a number of different definitions. Informally, the word ‘whirl’ means “a brief trial or experiment.”

Where Does This Idiom Come From?

‘Give it a whirl’ has a number of interesting origin story theories, despite the fact that it sounds so similar to ‘give it a try’ or ‘give it a go.’

According to some sources, the first time this phrase was used was in the mid- to late-19th century. In the United States, during the Victorian era, women would spin in their long dresses and create a spectacular sight. The phrase, according to this theory, evolved from the whirling of the dresses and was used to initiate action.

  • Another theory is a bit less festive. According to other sources, the phrase likely refers to a flywheel.

A flywheel is a mechanical device that can be used for a variety of different purposes, including minimizing the wobble in a machine, getting a piston engine started, or collecting kinetic power. For example, you would have to give a good ‘whirl’ to the flywheel of early tractors to get them going.

Examples of the Idiom in Print

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'Give It a Whirl' appears in text as early as the late 19th century.

One example comes from an 1871 volume of the American Bee Journal, which uses the phrase ‘give it a whirl' literally while instructing how to extract honey from frames:

“To extract honey from the frames, place them against the sides, with strips between, say an inch from the sides, and suspend the whole concern by four strong cords some eight or ten feet from the ceiling, and twist it up as near as it will go, and then give it a whirl back. My experience is, that after a few turns, my combs are clear enough of honey, and it runs through the strainer ready to be drawn off.”

We find another literal usage of the phrase in the 1894 text What Is Heat?: A Peep Into Nature’s Most Hidden Secrets from 1894:

“We might illustrate the various physical properties of this water sphere (excepting chemical reaction and attraction) by a larger sphere, say a glass marble. We take such a marble, put it into a wash-hand basin having a hole at the bottom, and give it a whirl round the side of the basin, it goes whirling round and round, making smaller and smaller circles, and ultimately drops through the hole at the bottom; so, in like manner, does a quantity of smaller spheres– the water molecules.”

In a 1914 volume of the publication Hunter-Trader-Trapper, we find an example of a woman using the phrase when describing her decision to experiment with raising opossum:

“Well, my husband said to me one day, ‘Why don’t you see what you can do in raising the opossum? I do not think they will do well in this climate, but give it a whirl.’ I told him if he could get a few I would try out the experiment.”

For a final example, we find the phrase used in a 1931 volume of a publication entitled Report on the Causes of Crime:

“By having a troupe makes it so much easier to pick a pocket. I didn’t have confidence in myself that I could steal good enough to support a troupe, but after working alone for a while I decided to give it a whirl.”

Examples of This Idiom In Sentences

How would 'give it a whirl' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “Despite the fact that I was just an amateur cyclist, the pro pointed to his top-of-the-line bike and told me to give it a whirl.”
  • “She’d always been reluctant to travel as she was afraid to go too far from home. Her friend encouraged her to give it a whirl, helping her organize a day trip to a city a few hours away.”
  • “You’re right. It’s time for me to try something new. I’ve been nervous about signing up for self-defense classes, but I think I ought to give it a whirl.”
  • “I used to be too stubborn to try new things. Now I see something I’ve never done before and think, ‘Why not! I’ll give it a whirl.”
  • “He’s really been loving his pottery classes. Why don’t you join him? What’s the harm in giving it a whirl?”
  • “I’m new at this, so you’ll have to bear with me. Once I’m done, you can give it a whirl.”

Final Thoughts About 'Give It a Whirl'

‘Give it a whirl’ is an idiom that means to try, attempt, or test something. You can use this phrase when you’re trying something new, as in, “I’ll give it a whirl!” You could also use it to encourage someone else to try something they’ve never done before, as in, “Go ahead, give it a whirl!”

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

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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