Crack the Whip – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for an expression to tell your employees to improve their focus and performance at work? You could say it’s time to “crack the whip” and get on the floor to motivate your employees to do more with their company resources. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “crack the whip” means that you need to assert your authority over the workforce to get them to increase productivity. It’s a way of saying that your employees need you to come down on them to get to work.

Employees slacking off from their duties at work use valuable company resources. So, by cracking the whip, you assert your authority and ensure they get back to work. It can also refer to placing pressure on people in the workplace to get them to perform at their peak.

The saying can also refer to a manager needing to take drastic action against the workforce to get them to fall in line and produce. It’s a way of saying that you’re in charge, and it’s up to you to motivate your staff or team.

Example Usage

“It looks like the team is slacking on their duties. I better get onto the floor and crack the whip before they start wasting company time.”

“Honey, can you go upstairs and crack the whip at the kids. The bus will be here in fifteen minutes, and they better be ready, or you’re driving them to school this morning.”

“I don’t know why you feel the need to crack the whip. It’s not like we’re falling behind in our work, and we’re not wasting company resources.”

“Get out there and crack the whip, Cyril. If we don’t get the crowd moving soon, it will cause a glut of traffic getting into the stadium.”

“Why do I have to crack the whip every time I need you guys to do something? Is it impossible for you to do anything without me forcing you?”

“I don’t care if you’re feeling tired and demotivated. Do your job. I’m going to come out there and crack the whip, so let the team know to get to it.”


The expression “crack the whip” originates from the mid-1600s. At the time, people would travel by horseback or in an ox-driven cart. Riders would “crack the whip” above the head of the oxen or horse to make the animals feel nervous and increase their pace.

The saying changed in the 1800s with the onset of the industrial revolution. Managers or owners of companies would use the term to describe flexing their authority to their subordinate workforce. The saying is in use today in both professional and social situations.

Phrases Similar to Crack the Whip

  • Call the shots.
  • Wear the pants.
  • In the saddle.

Phrases Opposite to Crack the Whip

  • Let it go slack.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Crack the whip.

Ways People May Say Crack the Whip Incorrectly

Using the expression to describe the use of a whip is incorrect. The “whip” refers to your authority over others. Using the phrase to describe lashing someone with a whip is erroneous. The saying has nothing to do with slavery or cruelty towards others.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Crack the Whip

You can use the expression “crack the whip” to describe how you intend to take action on people who fall behind in their work or tasks. Authority figures such as managers will use the saying to explain how they need to check on their staff and micro-manage them to increase their performance.

The phrase suits professional and social use. You could tell your boss that it’s time to get onto the production floor to crack the whip and get the employees from slacking off. Or you could use it at home to tell your wife to crack the whip at the kids, so they hurry up and get ready for school in time for the bus.

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