Green’s Dictionary of Slang

what-for n.

also what-sort
[? abbr. of the question ‘what are you doing this to me/is this happening for?’]

a punishment, trouble, a fuss.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 Sept. 22/1: [S]omething like a cannon ball on the end of a broom-stick caught the budding co-respondent all over the countenance, flattening his nose completely, and destroying his starboard light. Jerry – for it was his nulla-nullah that had surprised Go-the-rig – now went in for the fun he had decided on, and after giving his enemy ‘what sort,’ he proceeded to knock his vagrant wife senseless.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 18 Sept. 1/2: Had some back-blocker or struggling person owned them, ‘what for’ would have been dealt out, sharp and strong.
[UK]N. Douglas London Street Games 79: Old mother roundabout / Knocking all the kids about – / Outside Elsie’s door. / Up comes Elsie with a great big stick / And lets her know what for.
[US]E. O’Neill In the Zone in Mayorga (1919) 193: I’ll show yer what for, yer bleedin’ sneak!
[UK]Galsworthy White Monkey 169: Well! he had got what-for!
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 354: There was a row about it. The people of the South wanted to know What For.
[Aus]R. Park Poor Man’s Orange 32: I’ve got a son as old as that feller there, and if I thought he was going around in a fancy white coat staring at naked women and calling it learning he’d get what for!
[NZ]N. Hilliard Maori Girl 142: I’d show him what-for soon enough.

In phrases

give someone what-for (v.) [a response to presumed SE query ‘what is that for?’]

1. (also give someone what, show someone what-for) to reprimand severely, to inflict severe pain or chastisement, esp. of an errant child.

B. Hemyng Secrets of Turf 125: If you don’t take your hook instanter, I reckon I’ll give you what for with this bit of wood.
Wkly Kansas Chief (Troy, KS) 27 Feb. 1/3: You rascal, you! I’ll show you what for!
[UK] ‘’Arry at the Royal Evening Fête’ Punch 28 July 38/1: They’ve their slang, I suppose, these Big Bobs, — jest as we say, ‘I’ll give yer what for!’.
Cumberland Mercury (NSW) 5 Mar. 4/7: [T]he P’mattas gave ‘the family’ team wot for.
[UK]H. Nevinson ‘Sissero’s Return’ in Keating Working Class Stories of the 1890s (1971) 63: Nor yet he wasn’t one o’ them greasy niggers as [...] don’t so much as wink ’owever ’ard yer give ’em what for.
[US]N.Y. Tribune 9 Dec. 5/1: [She] looks as if she could give you what for if she got her monkey up.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 Sept. 48/1: I lost a good umbrella once, and me brother – he’s a lot older than me – give me What For, I can tell yer!
[US]S. Stewart ‘The Contract of Corporal Twing’ in O’Brien & Cournos Best Short Stories 330: Lie doggo w’ile I give the bleeders wot for.
[UK]R. Llewellyn None But the Lonely Heart 55: My feet’s just about wore off, they are. Proper giving me what for.
[US]H. Gold Man Who Was Not With It (1965) 290: What was my brag before Joy? How I gave my father what-for?
[US]J. Heller Good As Gold (1979) 383: Don’t give me what – I’ll give you what, you dummy.
[US]L. Heinemann Close Quarters (1987) 130: She [...] ran alongside for a way, giving us what-for and shaking her fist.
[Aus]A. Weller Day of the Dog 52: I reckon she’ll give ’im what for, when she finds out what ’e was doin’.
[UK]M. Frayn Now You Know 83: She’s really giving the boys what for.
[UK]Guardian Weekend 3 June 5: I suppose they’ll have to stop doing this now, in case Guy Ritchie gives them what for.

2. (also give someone what’s what) to attack physically, beat up.

[UK] ‘’Arry at a Political Pic-Nic’ Punch 11 Oct. 180/1: A noisy young Rad in a wideawake vanted to give him what for!
[UK]Punch 26 Nov. 252: And if when a cove gits tight, / Or would give his donah wot-for on the Q.T.
[UK]W. Pett Ridge Mord Em’ly 2: I sha’n’t be ’appy till we’ve give ’em what-for.
[US]J. London Road 105: We bad the immortal cinch on him, and if he got fresh, two or three of us would pitch on him and give him ‘what-for.’.
[US]E. O’Neill Hairy Ape Act VII: Shall we give him what’s what and put the boots to him?
[US]S. Ornitz Haunch Paunch and Jowl 8: We’ll give them what for any time they wants it.
[UK]J. Curtis There Ain’t No Justice 180: Blimey, if I’d ’ve spoke to me old man like that he’d ’ve set about me and give me what for.
[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 182: Blokes working for railways dursn’t come into a caff unless they was four or five-handed. The other boys would’ve soon given them what for.
[UK]J. Curtis Look Long Upon a Monkey 174: If he tried anything on, they’d give him whatfor.
[US]J. Thompson Pop. 1280 in Four Novels (1983) 394: You took on two pimps all by yourself, and gave ’em what-for.

3. of a man, to have sexual intercourse.

[UK]A. Sillitoe Sat. Night and Sun. Morning 82: Some gypsy selling clothes pegs got hold of her mother and gave her what for.
[UK]K. Sampson Awaydays 95: So basically, Elvis, Carty gives the bald skate what for while the other poor bitch is crying cos you can’t get a hard-on?
give — what-for (v.)

to talk eloquently about a given topic.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 14 Apr. 32/2: ‘Well, one night I wuz sittin’ in the back room givin’ the East what for, an’ all the ladies wus sittin’ round me sayin’, ‘Ho’ow verra naice!’ whenever I’d rip out a bunger of a lie about Jerusalem the ’oly city, an’ Bathsheba.