from P.Gmc. *khwat
(cf. O.S. hwat
, O.N. hvat
, Dan. hvad
, O.Fris. hwet
, Du. wat
, O.H.G. hwaz
, Ger. was
, Goth. hva
"what"), from PIE *qwod,
neut. sing. of *qwos
"who" (see who
). Meaning "what did you say?" is recorded from c.1300; as an interrogative expletive at the end of sentences it is first recorded 1785, common early 20c. in affected British speech. Or what
as an alternative end to a question is first attested 1766. "To give one what for
is to respond to his remonstrant what for?
by further assault" [Weekley]. The phrase is attested from 1873. What's-his-name
for "unspecified person" is attested from 1697; variant whatsisface
is first recorded 1967. What's up?
"what is happening?" first recorded 1881.