Carpeting and Wigging.

I recently ran into a bit of non-US slang I hadn’t been familiar with, the verb carpet meaning “to reprimand, esp. in the context of a superior telling off an employee”; that definition comes courtesy of the invaluable Green, who explains the derivation thus: “the miscreant is standing on his or her superior’s office carpet while receiving a reprimand.” His citations run from 1840 ([UK] H. Cockton Valentine Vox 350: They had done nothing! Why were they carpeted?) to 2002 ([Aus] S. Maloney Something Fishy 39: I’ll be carpetted for letting you lot come along), and along the way there’s a lone US cite from the Oct. 18, 1908 (Wash., DC) Evening Star: “Jockeys can’t pull anything now that they’re […] carpeted for it.” I particularly like this, from 1867 ([UK] M. Lemon Golden Fetters I 271): “Some unpleasant communication, which, though jocosely softened into ‘carpeting’ and ‘wigging,’ is really among the most distressing experiences of life.” The citations for wig ‘to scold, reprimand’ (from “a judge’s wig“) run from 1854 ([Ind] Delhi Sketch Bk 1 Aug. 90/2: Did not the Brigadier find fault with me / And wig me on Parade?) to 1938 ([Aus] X. Herbert Capricornia 483: [He] wigged the Government for its ignorance of what it ought to know); I presume it’s obsolete by now.

Is this usage familiar to my non-American readers? And, for that matter, are any of my fellow Yanks familiar with it?


  1. Both familiar to this Brit. ‘Wigging” I had always thought was quite an old English usage, whereas “carpet” I thought might be more US. Thanks for the citations!

  2. @S K Lewicki: “[Called] on the carpet” is American but rather old-fashioned. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually heard it without the “called,” although the version without is apparently older. “Wigging” I know from British sources, but it unavoidably reminds me of (American) “wigging out” (of unclear origin, apparently).

  3. I was just curious myself about “wig out.” This etymological exploration traces it back to at least 1959 (probably antedatable if you’ve got the right corpora to dig in?) and says it’s unrelated.

    Doing my own poking around I did discover this interesting 1961 critique of Wm. S. Burroughs by Gilbert Sorrentino (1929-2006):

    “When they wig out, and die, or get hung with an OD, it’s not the Pequod going down, that went down a long time ago, and though I hope and trust and MUST believe that Lawrence was wrong as hell when he said that all American writing after Moby Dick was post-mortem effects, here we have a book at hand that justifies and proves that observation, and it bugs me. I don’t mean either that these cats dying and fucking up is not important as the sinking of the Pequod in the same terms, that is, life for life, etc., but that Burroughs doesn’t let you give these cats life. Who the fuck in the whole Naked Lunch is worth saving, I mean can you care abt Hassan O’Leary in any other context but what chills and laughs he can give you?”

  4. Strange that Sorrentino, of all people, was concerned about whether books had characters worth saving. He was a hell of a writer; I provided a couple of meaty quotes back in 2006.

  5. I’m not sure I’ve seen/heard “carpet” as a verb before but I immediately intuited it as an extension of the idiom “called on the carpet” which I do recognise. One of those older cliches one still sees in journalism.

  6. It’s funny, I’m very familiar with “called on the carpet” but I didn’t connect it with the verb until it was mentioned in this thread. Linguistic intuition works in strange ways.

  7. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I think – as the quotations suggest – I’ve heard more of people being carpeted than of active carpeting, but possibly even more of people being ‘on the carpet’ (never ‘called on’, I don’t think).

    ‘Wig’ mostly seems to turn up in the form ‘a (good) wigging’, which might be obsolescent rather than obsolete – your Green’s last citation is from 1989, although the OED’s is from 1895!

  8. Just re Sorrentino, if you go over to the current version of the Dalkey Archive website, the main page features a quote by him or actually five different ones you can toggle back and forth among.

  9. Brit here. Yes I’ve heard both terms; I’d say they were both archaic.

    Yes ‘carpetted’ more often used passive than active. (And I note the variable number of ‘t’s in the quotes.)

    ‘Given a good wigging’ is something my parents would say of miscreant politicians, or children.

  10. Could this possibly have been sourced from a recent Etymonline post on the Facebooks? (if anyone here still lurks on that archaic platform, Etymonline’s posts are cranky, fun, and informative by turns). I also noticed “carpet, v.” in that post, but wasn’t moved to look it up. The pedants on the thread were more interested in “ask, n.”, which is just an easy take-down.
    (edit: not that I thought much about it at the time, but I now think my initial analysis of never-heard “carpet, v.” in the context of a social media post was on analogy to “bury, v.”, i.e. intentionally expose you in order to then cover you in a thick layer of inimical opinions. But that seems a bit cutting edge for etymonline so the imperious “calling on/to the carpet sense” must be the intended one)

  11. Both familiar to me, though I haven’t heard either for a couple of decades. As for the latter, I’ve come across “give someone a wigging” but not “wig” as a verb.

    And even if they are regionalisms, why does their being non-US make them slang?

  12. I just had a thought about what the jocular British superlative form of this verb carpet should be, although it may be too obscure to be actually funny. To make it work, I am imagining it as part of a dialogue between the Moncrieff brothers, who, ca. 1946, would be in their seventies—yet still rather roguish.

    ALGERNON: I stopped by Mordant House the other day, to see whether young Tucky Woodingham-Wolf had located the ten guineas he owed me. However, I arrived at a most inopportune time. I was escorted into the parlor just as Tucky was coming out of the admiral’s study, and from the look on Tucky’s face, I could see immediately it would be no use asking him to pungle up. His conversation with the admiral had evidently been quite a trial.
    JACK: I say! Had the old man given him a carpeting then?
    ALGERNON: Practically a Tedder carpeting, from the look of him.

  13. Someone being ‘on the carpet’ in the sense of being given a bollocking is much more common and presumably earlier than the verb form to carpet. I have always thought of it as figuratively a submissive position, being on all fours in some superior official’s office.

    George Wigg, one time sergeant-major and the notoriously unctious telltale about other MPs’ affairs to PM Harold Wilson, was subjected to “being given a wigging” puns in 1960s & ’70s newspaper headlines as well as Wiggery pokery.

    Wigg grew up in an Ealing dairy. His wife’s name was Veal.

  14. When I first heard “to wig (out)” in the American sense, ca. 1970, I immediately assumed it was derived from the older jazz expression “to flip one’s wig.”

  15. Could this possibly have been sourced from a recent Etymonline post on the Facebooks?

    Got it in one!

    And even if they are regionalisms, why does their being non-US make them slang?

    It doesn’t; the fact that they’re slang makes them slang. (I don’t think you’re likely to see “carpet(t)ed” or “given a wigging” in an official report.)

  16. When I first heard “to wig (out)” in the American sense, ca. 1970, I immediately assumed it was derived from the older jazz expression “to flip one’s wig.”

    I assume the same.

  17. I’m familiar with “wig out”, but I didn’t know its origin until now, or that it was not just a homophone of wig (as in a judge’s).

  18. I’ve seen the gerund “carpeting” and interpreted the metaphor as analogous to being “decked” or “floored”. I don’t recollect “wigging”; “wigs on the green” is not the same.

  19. Wigs on the Green (no relation).

  20. wig-block: a rounded block for placing a wig upon when being made or not in use

    Interesting; I wonder whether blocks for hats or wigs came first?

  21. “Wigging” for a reprimand is familiar to me (BrE) but pretty much obsolete. I’ve come across it in books but generally ones that are at least 50 years old. “Carpeting” similarly. Certainly never heard either used seriously in speech. My preference would be the wonderfully understated “interview without coffee”.

    Brett: I suggest that a “Harris carpeting” would be a better superlative phrase than a “Tedder carpeting”, even though Tedder invented it.

    “Wig out”, or just “wig”, I know from William Gibson, who incorporated it into near-future slang in his Sprawl trilogy: “Look, Case, you tell me what the fck is going on with you, you wig or something?”

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