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A wolf whistle is a distinctive two-note glissando whistled sound made to show high interest in or approval of something or someone, especially a woman viewed as physically or sexually attractive. Today, a wolf whistle directed at a woman is sometimes considered a precursor to sexual harassment, or a form of sexual harassment in itself.[1][2][3]

The name comes from the Wolf character in the popular 1943 Tex Avery cartoon Red Hot Riding Hood who whistles in this way at sexy female character Red.[4] He whistles at her in several other subsequent cartoons. It appears in British newspapers from 1949 onwards.[5][6]

According to Adam Edwards of Daily Express, the wolf whistle originates from the navy General Call made with a boatswain's pipe. The General Call is made on a ship to get the attention of all hands for an announcement. Sailors in harbour would whistle the General Call upon seeing an attractive woman to draw fellow sailors' attention to her. It was eventually picked up by passers-by, not knowing the real meaning of the whistle, and passed on.[7][better source needed] During a 2015 broadcast of A Way with Words, doubt was cast upon this explanation by lexicographer Grant Barrett, who noted that it was very thinly supported.[8] The Turn To Call is far closer to the wolf whistle than the General Call.[9]

The standard sound for a coin insertion for the Bally Manufacturing pinball machine "Playboy" (featuring iconography from Playboy magazine) is the wolf whistle.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Wolf-whistling is just the start – harassment is not harmless". The Guardian. March 8, 2012. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
  2. ^ "Wolf-whistling "could be made illegal" under new European convention". The Daily Telegraph. March 8, 2012. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
  3. ^ "'Wolf-whistling isn't fun, it's humiliating': Hollaback! campaign aims to end street harassment". Hull Daily Mail. June 17, 2014. Archived from the original on December 19, 2014. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
  4. ^ Barr, Sabrina (18 October 2018). "The history of wolf-whistling and why it could be banned". The Independent. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  5. ^ "And not one face at the windows". Daily Express. London. 23 June 1949. ... and not even the faintest suspicion of a "wolf" whistle!
  6. ^ "What a woman!". Daily Express. London. 15 February 1950. And a lone wolf whistle came from the back.
  7. ^ Edwards, Adam. "You just put your lips together and wolf whistle". Daily Express. 4 August 2011.
  8. ^ Barrett, Grant. "Wolf Whistle". (Audio podcast, requires SoundCloud player for access.) A Way with Words. 11 December 2015.
  9. ^ United States Navy Band, Boatswain's Calls, retrieved 2017-10-30

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