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On “whinge” and “whine”

Q: The word “whinging” jumps off the page whenever I see it in British fiction. We don’t use it in the U.S. Why is it used in Britain?

A: In modern English, “whinge” and “whine” generally mean the same thing, though “whinge” (it rhymes with “hinge”) isn’t often heard in the United States except in the mouths of Anglophiles.

They come from two Old English words: “whine” from hwinan (to make a whizzing or humming sound, like an arrow in flight), and “whinge” from hwinsian (to make a sound like a dog whimpering). We probably get “whinny,” or horse talk, from the same root.

Both words are very old; “whine” dates from 1275 and “whinge” from 1150. Originally, “whine” referred merely to the sound. But “whinge” implied a wailing or crying: the sound was one of distress. Eventually, to “whine” also came to mean complain or express discontent.

Though Americans use only one word, “whine,” the British use both: “whining” covers a variety of meanings, including sounds made by people, animals, or inanimate objects, and “whingeing” (also spelled “whinging”) is more specifically for peevish or fretful complaining. The British sometimes use the terms together for emphasis: “Stop your whingeing and whining!”

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