"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

While or Whilst

It will not surprise Heather to know that a day or so before she made a comment about the word 'whilst' GB and I had been talking about it - and about the difference between 'while' and 'whilst'. In fact I had made a note - "While I think on, I shall do a note to myself that whilst I am at GB's I must check when it is appropriate to use while and when whilst is more suitable."

There are some circumstances in which GB and I find it natural to use 'while' and some where 'whilst' seems the appropriate word. But could we explain to ourselves what those circumstances were? No! So we turned to Eric Partridge's 'Usage and Abusage'. That didn't help.

It informed us that the 'st' forms of words like 'whilst' and 'amongst' are becoming outdated - partly because they are less easy to pronounce and partly because they are less euphonious (pleasant-sounding or agreeable to the ear). I don't agree with either statement.

I read a lengthy number of contributions about the subject on a website and whilst they were interesting they didn't really inform the debate. It seems that in North America the natural form is 'while' and the comment was also made that in the UK 'whilst' is only used by 'people of a certain age'. Thanks - I really needed to hear that on a day when my bones were creaking!


  1. Well I don't believe the age comment at all -- I happily interchange while and whilst when writing because sometimes one just feels more natural.

    I can't explain why you would use one over the other although I always think that while somehow sounds like a time related word but whilst suggest some form of comparison, but that is a gut feeling and not based on anything more concrete.

    This reminds me of the debate we had when you helped proof read my thesis where we couldn't quite work out the difference between infeasible and unfeasible -- to the extent that we weren't even sure if they were both actually real words!

  2. Oh - pooh on the "aged" thoughts...I think it helps define you as from the UK and not the US; atleast I have enjoyed reading it within your posts and those are my thoughts.

    Sorry that you're achey, my friend but never feel OLD...I don't think that you could, in your heart :o)