The word whiffenpoof can refer to:
* an imaginary or indefinite animal; e.g. "the great-horned whiffenpoof;"
* 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 Universitysinging group, founded in 1909 and named for after the imaginary beast in the operetta;
* a stereotypic Yale alumnus or
Imaginary or indefinite animal
Particularly among hunters, "whiffenpoof" can be a tongue-in-cheek name for imaginary animal like the
jackalope, or a placeholder namefor 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." ["The Once Over At the Opera;" "The Philadelphia Inquirer,"; November 20, 1922; p. 17]
In Victor Herbert's "Little Nemo"
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. ["Some Dramatic Notes," "The [Duluth] Sunday News Tribune," November 15, 1908, p. 4]
One source indicates that the dialogue in fact began as an
ad libby actor Joseph Cawthorn, covering for some kind of backstage problem during a performance. [Gerald Boardman, "American Musical Theatre, A Chronicle," as cited by cite web|url=http://members.cox.net/jeepers/woof.html|title=Cracker Jack Gobbler|author=Jim Davis|date=February 18, 2006|accessdate=2008-07-30]
=The Yale Whiffenpoofs=
According to Whiffenpoof historian James M. Howard:cquote|It was Goat Fowler who suggested we call ourselves The Whiffenpoofs. He had been tickled by the patter of one of the characters in a Victor Herbert musical comedy called "Little Nemo" which recently been running on Broadway. In a scene in which there was great boasting of terrific exploits in big game hunting and fishing, comedian Joseph Cawthorne told a fantastic tale of how he had caught a Whiffenpoof fish. It seems that Cawthorn had coined the word some years before when he and a fellow actor were amusing themselves by making up nonsense verses. One they particularly liked began: "A drivaling grilyal yandled its flail, One day by a Whiffenpoof's grave." Cawthorn recalled the verse in making up his patter for "Little Nemo" and put it into his act.
Whether the word meant fish, flesh or fowl was irrelevant to our purpose when we chose it as our name. "Whiffenpoof" fitted in with our mood of free and exuberant fancy and it was adopted with enthusiasm.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
For Yale graduates,
The Whiffenpoof Songis 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." [cite web|title=Liberties; No Whiff of Poof|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9401E5D6163CF934A15756C0A9679C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print|author=Maureen Dowd|publisher=The New York Times|date=May 27, 2001|accessdate=2008-07-30]
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