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While vs whilst

Posted by GPP on July 27, 2003

In Reply to: While vs whilst posted by GPP on July 27, 2003

: : : : Is there any logic at all to the use of the word 'whilst'? It's often used in place of "while" in print in the UK. However, I don't recall hearing it much. Is it archaic? I know it's a contaction, but of what?

: : : Not a contraction. Fowler 2nd says no difference in usage. Merriam-Webster 2nd says for "amidst": "The 's' is an adverbial genitive ending; the 't' is excrescent, as in 'whilst'."

: : Onions 1934 Shorter OED: Whilst, adv., conj. (prep.) late ME. [f. Whiles + t as in 'amongst', 'amidst'.] 1.a.In advb phr. 'the w.' (obs. or rare arch.), also as simple adv. (obs. exc. dial.): During that time, meanwhile. b.'The w.', conj. phr.: During the time that, while. Obs. or rare arch. late ME. 2.conj.=While conj. 1,b,c. late ME. 3.transf.=While conj. 2a,b,c 1548. 4.conj. Till, until. Obs. exc. dial. 1520.

: 'Excrescent': Phonol. Of a sound in a word, growing out of the the action of the speech organs in forming neighboring sounds...

: "'transf.' and 'fig.'=in transferred and figurative use."

Aside from these archaisms, here's a clue to current usage, from MW2: "'amongst' "... often for euphony preferred to 'among' before a vowel; as, no one amongst us."

Also, I sense a subtle difference in meaning between 'amid' vs 'amidst', and 'among' vs 'amongst'. MW2 gives "'amidst' In or into the midst or middle of; surrounded or encompassed by; among. "This fair tree amidst the garden."--Milton; Amidst the splendor [sic] and festivity of a court."--Macaulay. MW2 also gives for 'amongst' "now [used] most frequently in senses 3 and 5 (of 'among', i.e.: 3. Belonging in the same group with; making part of the number of; in the number or class of; [etc.]. 5. Done or shared by the generality of; commonly by or through the aggregate of; in dispersion through; [etc.]")

Amid, amidst, among, and amongst, all seem to have rather a spatial quality to them, while (!) while and whilst have more of a temporal quality; I'm not sure how the distinctions made above amongst these four 'a' words might carry over to 'while' vs 'whilst'.

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