World Wide Words logo

Give it some welly

Q From Jennie Booth, Australia: I came across the phrase with some welly in a BBC report today. I’ve not seen it before and am curious about its meaning. Can you help?

A It’s a fine bit of British English slang, usually in the form give it some welly. This instruction, often shouted to a person as encouragement or criticism, asks for more effort to be put into whatever he or she is doing.

It dates from the 1970s. The last word in the phrase is a common British abbreviation for the equally British term wellington boots (“It’s wet in the garden — best wear your wellies”), these being waterproof rubber boots named after the First Duke of Wellington. The slang sense seems to have come about through mental links with various senses of boot or foot — one of the earliest appearances was in motor racing, in which the reference was putting the foot more firmly on the accelerator; another was in football, for a powerful kick. There doesn’t seem to be a direct association of ideas with the minor British sport of welly-throwing, but you never know.

I always hear it mentally with a Glasgow accent, perhaps because the Big Yin, the comedian Billy Connolly, was one of those who popularised it.

Page created 8 Jun. 2002

Support World Wide Words.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.


Buy anything from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you.

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon USA

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-giv2.htm
Last modified: 8 June 2002.