My mind, my thoughts, my words

Whereabouts?

A Scottish friend asked a German friend yesterday evening whereabouts she came from. We then watched a film (‘V for Vendetta’) where a character used that word, too. “Why whereabouts?”, she wondered .
I hope this post can clarify things.

whereaboutsThe word’s first known use as an adverb dates back to the 14th century (and the 18th century in terms of its use as a noun). It originates from the Middle English word whereaboutes (from wher aboute + -s, adverb suffix) and wher aboute (from where, wher + about/e).

Webster’s definition of whereabout/s:

  1. (adverb) About where or near what place; used interrogatively and relatively; as: “Whereabouts did you meet him?”
  2. (adverb) Concerning which; about which: “The object whereabout they are conversant.” – Hooker.
  3. (noun) The place where a person or thing is; as: “They did not know his whereabouts.” – Shak. (despite the deceptive s, the word is normally singular: “The whereabouts of the computer is unknown”)

My friend’s question “why whereabouts” was referring to (1) – why not just “where“?. I guess it’s a a little more informal and a way to ask more precisely for information. In the end of the day though, either is fine.

Sources:

2 comments on “Whereabouts?

  1. J Rae
    28/03/2011

    I was thinking about this while watching the movie and it occured to me:

    ‘whereabouts’ can be used as a noun (“what is the whereabouts of…?”). i was trying to think of a parallel with the other words but struggled. you can talk about “the how” of something, but that’s about as close as I got.

  2. Christopher
    28/03/2011

    It is certainly interesting to ponder the whys and wherefores of these usages…

    I think ‘whereabout’ in sense 2 is just an example of the phenomenon in literary English whereby you can make a prepositional interrogative / relative pronoun by suffixing the preposition onto ‘where’ (which means what or which in these words).

    So:

    the methods whereby we learn languages = the methods by which we learn languages
    the ball wherewith the child plays = the ball with which the child plays (also noun wherewithal = ability to do something)
    Wherefore art thou Romeo = What for art thou Romeo = Why art thou Romeo? (NOT where are you Romeo!)

    Similarly there+P = P that, here+P = P this:

    Therein lies the problem = In that the problem lies
    hereafter = after this = after now (also as noun, the Hereafter = the afterlife).

    You can form these with most simple prepositions, though some are more archaic than others. Lawyers love them. They are also used a lot in certain languages related to English.

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This entry was posted on 28/03/2011 by in Academia, Linguistic Musings and tagged , .
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