The Word ‘Whence’ is Pretty Much Always Used Incorrectly
Today I found out that the word ‘whence’ is pretty much always used incorrectly, especially by modern day writers.
For example, (from the Lord of the Rings, spoken by Elrond): “The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom; only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.”
So why is this wrong? ‘Whence’ actually means “from where” or “from what place”; so what was said above was, “It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from from where it came.” ‘Whence’ implies a “from” already; so preceding it with ‘from’, which is commonly done, is redundant. This is the principal advantage of using a word like “whence” instead of just saying “from where”; it implies the “from” already.
This is very similar to “hence” which, if used to refer to time or location, has an implied “from”: “from this place” or “from this time”. For example: “I shall go hence.”; meaning “I shall go from here”.
It isn’t just now-a-days that this has been commonly misused either. Grammar Nazis have been long enraged about the “from whence” faux pas since as early as the thirteenth century.
Whence did this first start popping up? There are numerous examples of the “from whence” usage in works by Shakespeare, Defoe, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and even several in the King James Bible.
So just remember:
‘from whence’ = ‘from from where’ = bad
‘whence’ = ‘from where’ = good
Of course, given that people have been using whence “incorrectly” for many hundreds of years and this faux pas is fairly common today, it could be argued that this isn’t technically incorrect at all, just a little redundant. But how else are Grammar Nazis supposed to demonstrate smugly superior linguistic intellects in internet comments if we don’t nitpick these sorts of things? Hmmm?!? *Grammar Nazi’s of the World Unite!* (Yes, I know. ;-))
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- Split Infinitives are Not Incorrect Grammatically
- Did English Speakers Really Not Use Contractions in the 19th Century as Depicted in True Grit?
- The Difference Between an Acronym and an Initialism
- What is a Kudo, as in “Kudos to You”?
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