give (someone) what for, to

give (someone) what for, to

To give someone a scolding or harsh reprimand. This expression dates from the second half of the 1800s. For example, “If you don’t do your homework, the teacher will give you what for.” David Sedaris had it, “. . . I’d have loved to have turned around and given those two what for” (“Standing By,” New Yorker, August 9, 2010). See also dressing down.
See also: give, what
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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