Is whence still in use?

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Loob

Senior Member
English UK
Mod. note: The first three posts are from a thread on a different topic.

"Whither" = to what place (and "whence" = from what place).

We don't use either of these words any more.
 
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  • kitenok

    Senior Member
    I also used to think "from whence" was foolish nonsense, and then I sat down once with the sonnets of Shakespeare, whose English I trust more than my own. Sonnet XLVIII, Line 12:

    From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part...

    I still wince at "from whence," but now I hold my tongue as I do it.

    As to the question at hand (is whence still in use?), I do use "whence" once in a while, and "hence" at least as often, but I know I have to be careful about my audience when I do it.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Whence is still occasionally used in a figurative way, with the meaning based on this evidence (...we can see that....). Whither only in Biblical quotations such as the translation of St Peter's Quo vadis, Domine? and poetry.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Speaking with an editorial 'we', are we? Some of us still use 'whence' in formal writing.
    It was the royal "we", cuchu.

    But our sweeping generalisation was evidently wrong. The WRF search function provides clear evidence that some people do still use "whence".

    At least we are not inconsistent. Before today, the only "whence" in a Loob post was in a quotation from the OED;)




    I must stop accidentally starting threads
    I must stop accidentally starting threads
    I must stop accidentally starting threads
    I must stop accidentally starting threads
    I must stop accidentally starting threads
     
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    Polixenes

    Member
    English - English
    Mod. note: The first three posts are from a thread on a different topic.

    "Whither" = to what place (and "whence" = from what place).

    We don't use either of these words any more.


    And following the theme...

    "Hither" = to this place
    "Thither" = to that place

    "Hitherto" = until this time
    "Thitherto" = until that time
    (I must admit I just looked this word up on a whim and was surprised to see it existed!)

    And also noting

    "Hence" = from this place
    "Thence" = from that place
    (both often used nowadays as meaning "therefore"- or "from that set of facts")
     
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    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I found nothing to suggest there is anything improper in "from whence".
    Fowler makes no comment and gives examples of naked whence and from whence.
    The OED makes no comment either, and likewise gives examples of both kinds from reputable writers.
    I will happily continue to write "from whence" whenever the mood takes me.
    Goldsmith, Tindale, Dryden and Dickens seem fair enough company.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    This is quite interesting on that topic:

    Usage Note: The construction from whence has been criticized as redundant since the 18th century. It is true that whence incorporates the sense of from: a remote village, whence little news reached the wider world. But from whence has been used steadily by reputable writers since the 14th century, most notably in the King James Bible: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" Psalms. Such a respectable precedent makes it difficult to label the construction as incorrect. Still, it may be observed that whence (like thence) is most often used nowadays to impart an archaic or highly formal tone to a passage, and that this effect is probably better realized if the archaic syntax of the word without from is preserved as well.
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I'll defer to W.B. Yeats for my preferred form.

    "Whence did all that fury come?"




    See A Stick of Incense for the rest, but be prepared to be offended.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm not sure how archaic you like your archaic:
    1377 LANGL. P. Pl. B. v. 532 This folke frayned hym firste fro whennes he come.
    c1430 Syr Tryam. 431 What do ye here, madam? Fro whens come ye?

    It looks as if the response to "from whence" may depend on many things, but not, I suggest, historical use.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    I have to say that I always use "whence" with "from" (how the prescriptivists howl!).

    Dear Panj, I like my archaic from 14th June 1378, 12 noon GMT.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    For the lovers of plain English, including those who claim to make frequent or occasional use of from before whence...Do you begin a sentence with From whence, or limit your fromming to mid-sentence appearances of whence? I speculate it might be about euphony.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    The more I think about this, the more clouded becomes my mind.

    I think a sentence beginning with "whence" would sound good to me, but then again "from whence" sounds alright too. However, I have more difficulty with the sound of "whence" in the middle of a sentence.

    I'm sorry to be so imprecise on this. Sometimes, the more one ponders, the less clear things become.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I think it's safe to say that "whence" is not part of normal English speech, and that even in writing it is extremely rare. "Hence," however, is quite common. "Whither" is not. I'd say "whither" doesn't really show up in modern writing (and certainly not in speech), except in jest or reproductions/imitations of archaic language.
     

    mickey0

    Senior Member
    italian (northern)
    Hello,
    just to understand if It's really no longer in use; I read it in subtitles while watching a serie, ER, and the complete sentence was "I'm going back from whence I came" (a doctor was called at home by the hospital, he went to the hospital to do a surgery, and after did it, it said that phrase to another doctor, thus he wanted to say "I go home now").

    He used "from" but: Wouldn't have he had to use just "from where" ?
    (sorry the question here above maybe has a mistake about the position of 'he')

    thanks.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    "back from whence <> came" is a sort of common(ish) saying, it's not a productive use of this word, but echoing a set phrase.
    This doesn't mean it's used in the sense of how other current words are used.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree with Alx. I would say that in mickey0's context, it was being used humorously, as a deliberate archaism....:)
     

    b1947420

    Senior Member
    British English
    "back from whence <> came" is a sort of common(ish) saying, it's not a productive use of this word, but echoing a set phrase.
    This doesn't mean it's used in the sense of how other current words are used.
    I used the term the other day when speaking to my cousin after her 93 y.o. father (my uncle) who lives alone was taken into hospital with a heart attack.
    I said "Will the medics discharge him back to the home situation from whence he came?"
    I said this quite naturally so I'm pleased to note from this thread that it was not out of order in spoken English. :)
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    I found nothing to suggest there is anything improper in "from whence".
    Fowler makes no comment and gives examples of naked whence and from whence.
    The OED makes no comment either, and likewise gives examples of both kinds from reputable writers.
    I will happily continue to write "from whence" whenever the mood takes me.
    Goldsmith, Tindale, Dryden and Dickens seem fair enough company.
    Agreed.

    I regularly use "whence" and "from whence", and haven't gotten any strange looks - yet.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The OED makes no comment either, and likewise gives examples of both kinds from reputable writers.
    I will happily continue to write "from whence" whenever the mood takes me.
    But the concise version does
    USAGE
    Strictly speaking, whence means 'from what place'. Thus, use of the preposition from is redundant and its use is considered incorrect by some. However, it has been used by reputable writers since the 14th century and is now broadly accepted in standard English.
    Getting on for 700 years of usage seems good enough for me. I still use it, and don't plan to stop.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    To whither goeth this thread from hence?
    It cometh to hither, of course; perhaps
    It goeth to thither with single goal,
    Henceforth forever to make us wince!

    I won't use "from whence", irregardless of who used it before. :D
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    How is it "bending over backwards", to not speak in the way people spoke long ago? That is inaccurate. I do not have to go to any effort ("bend over backwards") to avoid using "whence" or "prithee" or "doth".

    I use hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of words and expressions Shakespeare never used. I think moden English is just as rich as it was in the past.
     

    j-p-c

    Senior Member
    How is it "bending over backwards", to not speak in the way people spoke long ago? That is inaccurate. I do not have to go to any effort ("bend over backwards") to avoid using "whence" or "prithee" or "doth".

    I use hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of words and expressions Shakespeare never used. I think moden English is just as rich as it was in the past.
    Unlike "prithee" (please), "doth" (do), "whence" has no modern replacement, is concise, and to be found in modern dictionnaries.

    whence | Definition of whence in English by Oxford Dictionaries

    Please note: "Broadly accepted".
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    It's "from whence" that is supposed to be "broadly acceptable", and they mean "grammatically acceptable" as an alternative to "whence". Since "whence" means "from where", "from" would be redundant, strictly speaking.

    They label "whence" itself as "archaic".

    [[Helpful comments removed by moderator (thank you). The posts have been relocated hither from whence they were erroneously located.]]
     
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    j-p-c

    Senior Member
    Please read again, "From whence" is said to be "redundant", not "grammatically acceptable". (How do you know what they "mean" ?)

    I'm not forcing anyone to use it, just pointing to it there, splendid and neglected. No stress, as they say, "Keep your shirt on". : )
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help
    Bible Gateway passage: Psalm 121 - King James Version

    That's a memorable line, and one that I often say to myself, but I don't model my own English on Biblical usage. I would never suggest to a learner that it's part of the English language as we speak it today, but it's a good idea for them to have it in their passive vocabulary.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    We don't use 'whence' at all, really. It's very old-fashioned.
    Who is "we"?
    They label "whence" itself as "archaic".
    The OED does not.
    The British National Corpus has 232 examples of "whence" in 162 different texts. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 609. It is in the OED's frequency band 5, along with surveillance, assimilation, tumult, penchant, paraphrase, conditional, cumulative, arithmetic, radioactive, symptomatic, authorized, Neolithic, discontinuous, preconceived, comprehend, presuppose, perpetuate, encircle, jeopardize, markedly, empirically, functionally, and disproportionately. The WordReference dictionary | in context | link goes to contemporary usage, including, for example, a travel article in the Daily Telegraph What happens to your plane before it's safe to fly? A day in the life of an aircraft mechanic as recent as 21 February 2018.

    Not bad for a word claimed by some to be "archaic" and a word that "we don't use at all".
     
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