whale away at (someone or something)
1. To attack or thrash something in an brutal, forceful, or relentless manner. He stood there whaling away at the wall with a sledgehammer, but he barely seemed to be making a dent in it. She began whaling away at the poor child until a police officer finally intervened. The other team whaled away at us for the entire game, leading to one of our most humiliating defeats of the season.
2. To criticize, rebuke, or verbally assault someone or something vehemently or relentlessly. The interviewer suddenly began whaling away at the politician over his alleged ties to the pharmaceutical industry. The boss whaled away at us for the entirety of the meeting because of our failure to meet our sales quota.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
Attack physically or verbally, as in Our boys whaled away at the enemy, or The talk-show host whaled away at the hostile critics. The word whale here does not allude to the ocean mammal, but means "flog" or "thrash." [Mid-1800s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.