A lot of the words we feature on the Linguaholic blog are relatively recent in origin, or have been popularized in part due to the Internet.
Others are ancient, and have grown and changed with the English language for hundreds of years.
The expression in this post is somewhere in the middle. Read on and find out what it means when someone talks about selling “wolf tickets.”
What is the meaning of the phrase “wolf tickets”?
The expression “wolf ticket,” also spelled as “woof ticket,” is an example of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), a variety of English historically spoken by black Americans. No matter the spelling, “wolf tickets” refers to empty boasting or threatening behavior that isn’t followed up by action. The expression “sell wolf tickets” means to make empty boasts or empty threats.
What is a wolf ticket?
A wolf ticket might sound like something you want to stay away from if you own chickens, but this expression actually doesn’t have anything to do with wolves.
Instead, the expression “wolf ticket” means to make act boastfully with the intent to intimidate someone or to otherwise make an empty threat.
In other words, if you act like you’re going to hurt someone unless they listen to you, or just generally put on a show of strength you don’t really want to follow up on, that is a “wolf ticket.”
How do you use the expression “wolf ticket” in a sentence?
To use “wolf tickets” in a sentence, you usually need some kind of verb in front to show that you are performing an action.
That is, you wouldn’t tell someone you found wolf tickets lying on the floor, because that isn’t threatening. Instead, “wolf tickets” are almost always tied to the action someone does with them.
The verbs “sell” and “buy” are the most common actions associated with wolf tickets, but any verb that suggests giving something to someone or showing something off could work.
The expression can also follow phrases that show how much boasting is happening, such as a “flurry of wolf tickets” or saying that someone displayed “a lot of wolf tickets.”
In short, what you need to do when using this expression is to clearly connect it to a person acting tough.
In these example sentences, the expression “wolf tickets” is used to show that Kenny and the boxer are acting aggressively or tough, even though they are not necessarily being physically violent.
In the second sentence, the expression is used somewhat ironically, as the boxer then loses his match.
What does it mean when you sell wolf tickets?
If someone says a person is “selling wolf tickets,” there is no actual transaction taking place. Rather, that person is just boasting, making empty threats or otherwise acting tough.
As the section above notes, “sell” is only one of many other words that can be used with the expression “wolf tickets.” Others include “give,” “offer” and “hand out.
Similarly, if someone is “buying wolf tickets,” that means they are being intimidated by the empty threats the “wolf tickets” represent.
This sentence suggests that somebody is acting threateningly, but the speaker doesn’t think they’ll follow through.
Here, the police are acting in a threatening way in order to try and find somebody.
Is there any difference in “woof” and “wolf” tickets?
Another spelling (and pronunciation) for “wolf tickets” is the use the word “woof” instead. In some dialects of American English, these two words sound very similar, and for the purposes of this expression they can be used interchangeably.
That means if someone is “selling woof tickets,” they are doing the same thing as if they were “selling wolf tickets.” There’s no difference in meaning.
Where does the expression “wolf tickets” originate?
This expression originates in the 1960s, where it was a part of slang used primarily by working class black Americans. Scholars and academics call this “African American Vernacular English” or AAVE for short, a term which also encompasses specific pronunciation and grammatical changes.
Although AAVE is still alive and well today, the expression “wolf tickets” is now pretty obscure, if not outright historical. The phrase was common throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but by the 1990s it had begun to fade away.
Interestingly, the origin of the expression doesn’t have anything to do with wolves, but is likely to come from the expression “woofing,” meaning to make a loud barking noise like a dog and, by extension, to make loud, threatening noises.
From “woofing,” somebody added in the word “tickets,” and the expression “woof tickets” was born. Because “woof” and “wolf” are similar sounding, the word slowly changed so that “wolf tickets” became the more common usage.
Can ANYONE use the expression “wolf tickets”?
This is a complicated question. Technically, of course, nobody is going to stop you from using any expression you like. There are no word police who go around telling people they’re not qualified to say specific things.
On the other hand, this expression’s origin in a black dialect of American English means that you could be accused of cultural appropriation if you are not yourself a black American and you regularly use this phrase.
Because this expression is somewhat obscure, though, and isn’t really in current usage, it’s possible that nobody would even notice.
Using more common aspects of AAVE if you yourself are not a black American is definitely a bad idea in most, if not all, cases, though.
What does “Wolf’s ticket” mean in Russian?
In the Russian language, there is another, very similar expression: “wolf’s ticket.”
In this context, the expression “wolf’s ticket” comes from the Russian phrase во́лчий биле́т (vólčij bilét), which refers to an official document that is either not filled out completely or which applies restrictions to the person mentioned in the document.
In the Soviet Union these “wolf’s tickets” were usually granted by a university to show that a student had finished their degree but had not taken exams due to poor conduct or low grades.
However, the expression was also used to refer to passports given to people accused of purely political crimes.
In these cases, the “wolf’s tickets” severely restricted their movement around the country, and were often given before they were exiled or sentenced to labor in prison colonies.
Although the expression “wolf’s ticket” is rare, and almost exclusively historical, it may still be used in some European countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and care should be taken not to mix this expression up with the American origin of “wolf tickets.”
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.