who·​dun·​it | \ hü-ˈdə-nət How to pronounce whodunit (audio) \
variants: or less commonly whodunnit

Definition of whodunit

: a detective story or mystery story

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In 1930, Donald Gordon, a book reviewer for News of Books, needed to come up with something to say about a rather unremarkable mystery novel called Half-Mast Murder. "A satisfactory whodunit," he wrote. The coinage played fast and loose with spelling and grammar, but "whodunit" caught on anyway. Other writers tried respelling it "who-done-it," and one even insisted on using "whodidit," but those sanitized versions lacked the punch of the original and have fallen by the wayside. "Whodunit" became so popular that by 1939 at least one language pundit had declared it "already heavily overworked" and predicted it would "soon be dumped into the taboo bin." History has proven that prophecy false, and "whodunit" is still going strong.

Examples of whodunit in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The second half of the movie is less a whodunit than a can-he-find-the-evidence-to-nail-him. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 6 Sep. 2021 Big Little Lies was a juicy character study camouflaged as a whodunit, and Nine Perfect Strangers is an ensemble drama that indicts New Age spiritual fads. Matthew Jacobs, Town & Country, 1 Sep. 2021 Thanks to its storytelling, which borders on the irresistible, a courtroom whodunit is transformed into something more profound. Dick Lehr, WSJ, 20 Aug. 2021 But while the whodunit unfolds, you might be gripped by something slightly less sinister: what everyone is reading by the pool. Matthew Jacobs, WSJ, 3 Aug. 2021 What then unfolds is more of a why-dunit than a whodunit as Pullman’s detective tries to figure out how an average woman could be driven to commit such a brutal crime. Brian Tallerico, Vulture, 1 June 2021 Among a certain segment of the scrolling classes, art and literary division, firing up their tablets and smartphones each morning has taken on aspects of a whodunit. New York Times, 1 July 2021 Francine Prose’s latest novel is a story within a story, a literary whodunit where the crime is against integrity. BostonGlobe.com, 24 June 2021 On Thursday, Deadline reported that Kathryn Hahn is set to join the sequel to Knives Out, director Rian Johnson’s amazingly clever 2019 whodunit. Angela Watercutter, Wired, 14 May 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'whodunit.' 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 whodunit

1929, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for whodunit

alteration of who done it?

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The first known use of whodunit was in 1929

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Dictionary Entries Near whodunit

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Last Updated

16 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Whodunit.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whodunit. Accessed 22 Sep. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of whodunit

: a novel, play, or movie about a murder where you do not know who committed the murder until the end

More from Merriam-Webster on whodunit

Nglish: Translation of whodunit for Spanish Speakers


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