Friday, June 16, 2006

whilst

When I first started marking (AmE prefers grading) essays (AmE would say papers, which is more likely to mean 'exams' in BrE university-speak) in the UK, I would correct students who used the word whilst instead of while, as in Whilst the students could write 'while', they tend to write 'whilst'. My comment would be the teacherly version of (AmE) take that stick out of your ass. I quickly learned, however, that whilst is not a punishable offense in British English.

Paul Brian's Common Errors in English Usage says: 'Although “whilst” is a perfectly good traditional synonym of “while,” in American usage it is considered pretentious and old-fashioned.' Indeed, it is. I try to not let it affect me nowadays...

10 comments:

Rebecca said...

I'm from Yorkshire, and we have the (somewhat annoying) habit of using 'while' in a period of time. For instance: 'What time are you working?' 'Ten while four'.

lynneguist said...

One person's 'annoying' is another's 'charming'!

Anonymous said...

The software project I work on is a collaboration between Brits and Americans. I still frequently encounter the word "whilst" in comments in source code, and keep wanting to change it to "while", but I don't. An interesting difference.

outerhoard said...

At some point I seem to have invented my own rule for distinguishing "while" from "whilst".

When the meaning is "although" I never use "whilst", and when the meaning is "at the same time" I don't use "whilst" if the following clause contains an explicit subject. Hence, "I ate a sandwich while I was walking" or, "I ate a sandwich whilst walking".

Where I subconsciously picked this rule up from I have no idea, but if I ever wrote a prescriptivist style guide and imposed spurious rules on everyone just because I can, this one would be on top of my list. :-)

Steve C said...

Sounds just about right to me. I'm also not sure of a 'rule' as such but the different variants just tend to suggest themselves.

American Usage publications tend to say that the -st forms are archaic. This may be so in the US but isn't at all true in the UK.

Vive la difference, as they say in Holland...

Harry Campbell said...

For what it's worth, "whilst" has always sounded "pretentious and old-fashioned" to this Brit.

Albert Herring said...

The Yorkshire (or South and East Yorks at least, and over the borders a bit into north Derbyshire and Notts) use of "while" generally replaces "until" - "I won't be back while while the Wednesday game on Thursday". Don't think "whilst" ever gets used in that form, though. Apocryphally, the introduction of level crossing signs saying "Wait while red lights flash" led to a number of fatal accidents in the area.

MM said...

I hate 'whilst' and I'm British. I think it's pretentious too, and I don't think I'm the only British person who regards it as poor style. You won't see it in newspapers much, for example. Pam Peters says while:whilst AmE 1500:1, BrE 10:1.

Líam said...

I am British, and 30 years old for reference. "Whilst" is my default choice, not sure why I prefer it but to my ears it sounds more natural...

Mindy said...

While I would not use whilst, I think it sounded nice when SuperNanny Jo sed it.
In my midwestern accent it just sounds hickish.