whip·​saw | \ˈhwip-ˌsȯ, ˈwip-\

Definition of whipsaw 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: a narrow pit saw averaging 5 to 7¹/₂ feet (1.5 to 2.3 meters) in length


whipsawed; whipsawing; whipsaws

Definition of whipsaw (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to saw with a whipsaw

2 : to beset or victimize in two opposite ways at once, by a two-phase operation, or by the collusive action of two opponents wage earners were whipsawed by inflation and high taxes

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Did You Know?


A whipsaw is a type of handsaw worked by two people, one of whom stands on or above the log being sawed and the other below it, usually in a pit. The tool dates back to the 15th century, but it was not until the 1870s that anyone thought to use the saw's name figuratively to describe situations in which someone or something is doubly "cut," or hurt. Today, the word is commonly used when discussing financial crises or losses. For example, just recently a chief executive explained in a press statement that his company was "whipsawed in the fourth quarter as key industries were hit by a rapidly deteriorating economy and plunging commodity prices." (The New York Times, January 27, 2009)

Examples of whipsaw in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Across Wall Street, traditional traders were mostly helpless, while the engineers best equipped to explain the whipsaw weren’t in a position to do anything about it. Liz Hoffman And Telis Demos, WSJ, "Wall Street Erases the Line Between Its Jocks and Nerds," 18 Aug. 2018 The Kepler wake-up whipsaw continues. NASA's Kepler space telescope, which has discovered more than 2,650 alien planets to date, emerged from yet another slumber Thursday (Oct. 11), agency officials said. Mike Wall, Space.com, "NASA's Kepler Planet-Hunting Space Telescope Wakes Up Again," 13 Oct. 2018 Bloomberg’s bond market reporter Brian Chappatta talks about the Treasury whipsaw with host Ramy Inocencio. Dana Pardini, Bloomberg.com, "Everything You Need to Know This Morning From Daybreak (Podcast)," 10 Jan. 2018 Democratic Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wants the OTA back too, given the whipsaw pace of new tech arrivals. Clive Thompson, WIRED, "Why Congress Needs to Revive Its Tech Support Team," 13 July 2018 The whipsaw crest of the Rocky Mountains is visible from a hundred miles away. Porter Fox, Outside Online, "Exploring America's Forgotten Border," 1 June 2018 The rapid shift from provocative steps to summit diplomacy illustrates the whipsaw approach the President has adopted on the global stage. Jeremy Diamond And Kevin Liptak, CNN, "Sources: Trump sought to evacuate military families from South Korea before Olympics," 15 May 2018 Southern California is home to the largest Korean population outside of Asia and Ms. Kim is one of many Korean-Americans here feeling a whipsaw of emotions over the administration’s actions in recent days. Jennifer Medina, New York Times, "Awe, Gratitude, Fear: Conflicting Emotions for Korean-Americans in the Era of Trump," 10 May 2018 During the Porter crisis, Kelly found himself under intense scrutiny for the veracity of his whipsaw statements. Washington Post, BostonGlobe.com, "John Kelly: Is White House chief of staff on the outside looking in?," 9 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Talk of cold snaps and polar vortices could whipsaw the market—particularly on Monday mornings, when the markets reopen to a new weather forecast. Spencer Jakab, WSJ, "Think Oil Has Been Volatile? Watch Natural Gas," 14 Nov. 2018 Of course, the easiest way to whipsaw across the country like this is with a tour operator: Try luxe outfit Roar Africa. Mark Ellwood, Condé Nast Traveler, "Best Places to Visit in September," 25 July 2018 One of the few hedge funds to survive the downswing in the commodity supercycle has a lesson for traders trying to navigate whipsawing aluminum prices: go short at your peril. Mark Burton, Bloomberg.com, "Aluminum Bears on Treacherous Ground as Supply Shocks Continue," 27 Apr. 2018 When the market hasn’t been whipsawed by the trade drama, it’s found comfort in strong corporate earnings and U.S. economic growth. Washington Post, "Trade tremors: How tariffs, tough talk has unsettled markets," 8 June 2018 Stocks rose on Wednesday in a roller-coaster trading session during which investors were whipsawed by updates on an escalating trade dispute between the United States and China. Matt Phillips And Prashant S. Rao, New York Times, "Stocks Rise on Wall Street Even as Trade Fight Between U.S. and China Grows," 4 Apr. 2018 Global stocks have been whipsawed in recent sessions as investors grapple with conflicting signals from senior officials in the Trump administration on future trade policy between the world’s two biggest economies. Riva Gold, WSJ, "The Scariest Place for Investors in a Trade War," 26 June 2018 Stocks eked out a gain amid late selling Friday to cap a quarter that’s seen equities whipsawed by escalating trade tensions and central-bank hawkishness. Jeremy Herron, BostonGlobe.com, "Stocks cap quarter with gains, dollar slumps," 29 June 2018 The talks in the Austrian capital were the latest steps in a process that has whipsawed oil markets for weeks. Wael Mahdi, Houston Chronicle, "OPEC seeks last minute compromise as Iran opposes supply boost," 22 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'whipsaw.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of whipsaw


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1842, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

9 Dec 2018

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The first known use of whipsaw was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for whipsaw



Financial Definition of whipsaw

What It Is

A trader is said to be "whipsawed" when the price of a security suddenly moves in the opposite direction of a trade that he just placed.

How It Works

For instance, if a trader buys shares of Apple at $250/share, and over the course of the day the price drops to $230, the trader has been whipsawed.

Why It Matters

This usually occurs in a volatile market when traders are subjected to high risk. Short-term traders can be whipsawed often, but long term traders are likely to see better results over a longer time horizon.

Source: Investing Answers

More from Merriam-Webster on whipsaw

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with whipsaw

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about whipsaw

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