1. [late 18C] an important or influential person.
2. [mid-19C–1920s] (US, orig. campus) an exceptionally brilliant scholar.
3. [late 19C+] (US) an exceptionally large or fat person.
4. [late 19C-1930s] usu. as a whale for..., a fanatic, an obsessive, a fan of.
5. [late 19C–1910s] (Aus.) an exceptional performer in any given discipline; also ironic use; thus a whale at/on; whale of a...
6. (US) a heavy bettor.
1. [1930s] someone who has money to spend and uses it on the assembled company.
2. [1980s+] ‘a major influence at work behind the scenes’ (Wilkes).
1. [late 19C+] a general intensifier, whether positive or negative, hell of a, a under hell n.
2. [1910s+] an exceptional person.
[20C+] a large amount of, a great deal of.
[late 19C+] a riotous evening, an extremely enjoyable occasion; occas. negative use.
SE in slang uses
[1930s] (UK tramp) fish in white sauce.
[1930s] (US tramp) a steel coal-car.
[1960s–70s] (Aus.) to vomit.