What Does Blow the Whistle on Someone Mean?

Blow the Whistle on Someone Meaning

Definition: To expose wrongdoing.

The idiom to blow the whistle on someone or something means that you are calling someone or something out in the hope of bringing some bad behavior to a halt.

You think the behavior must stop and you hope to correct it by revealing it to the public, who will then apply social pressure or sometimes the law to stop it.

Origin of To Blow the Whistle on Someone

blow the whistle idiomIn the past, people literally blew a whistle to attract the attention of the police. While the practice began in 19th century Britain, it was the American police force that became the first group to officially be labeled “whistleblowers.”

We can see an early example of this from The Janesville Gazette in 1883,

  • Quiet was restored upon the arrival of the regular police force … But the crowd of people were all willing to bet that McGinley was the champion whistle blower in America.

In the 1960s, we began to see examples of blow the whistle in reports of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. When the true nature of the massacre was revealed in the Lawton Constitutional in 1969, the GI who reported the story was criticized.

  • This “whistle-blower” [GI Ronald Ridenhour] has turned out to be a clever member of the anti-war faction which has been using the alleged misconduct of a few GIs to slander the American Army.

As we can see from these examples, the formation of the word has changed from the 19th century “whistle blowers,” to the 20th century “whistle-blowers.” In some modern sources, it is common to see the word written without a hyphen: whistleblowers.

Examples of To Blow the Whistle on Someone

blow the whistle meaningIn the modern day, people blow the whistle on someone when they disagree with what that person is doing. In politics, it is common for people to blow the whistle on their colleagues to reveal scandal.

You can also blow the whistle on something instead of an individual. Again, taking the example of politics, a rogue insider might blow the whistle on his entire department for corruption, rather than just one individual person.

More Examples

  • Delhi mascots to blow the whistle on public defecation. –The Guardian
  • The health ministry will reward people who blow the whistle on hospitals that use illegal means to attract foreign patients. –The Korea Times

Summary

The phrase blowing the whistle on someone is reporting someone’s wrongdoing to someone who can stop it.