22 November 2020

"Wherefore" means WHY

"From Middle English wherfor, wherfore, hwarfore, equivalent to where- (“=what”) +‎ for. Compare Dutch waarvoor (“what for, wherefore”), German wofür (“for what, what for, why”), Danish and Norwegian hvorfor (“wherefore, why”), Swedish varför (“wherefore, why”)."
Juliet is not asking the moon where Romeo is - she's bemoaning the fact that he is a Montague and she is a Capulet:  Why did you have to be a Montague?

It drives me crazy every time I hear a performance (typically high school or amateur productions) in which Juliet asks "wherefore ART thou Romeo?" instead of the proper "wherefore art thou ROMEO?"

*sigh* The tribulations of an old English major...

9 comments:

  1. I have a similar reaction, though it's understandable that the average person who hasn't been clued in would assume the word means "where." It makes we wonder about the expression "why's and wherefore's." Did the meanings of the two words once have a shade of difference? Or is the repetition used to suggest a long list of similar items, like we use "...and blah blah blah"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question. I had to look it up. World Wide Words addressed (but didn't totally answer) the situation:

      "The complete expression is at least as old as Shakespeare, who used it in the Comedy of Errors in 1590: “Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season, When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?” Note the singular, once a common form: though it’s often misquoted, that’s the way the gallant Captain Corcoran and others sang it in HMS Pinafore: “Never mind the why and wherefore”.

      The usual meaning is a bit more than just that of the individual words, which is why the apparent redundancy has survived — as a way to emphasise that what’s needed is not just a reason, but the whole reason, or all the reasons. It’s sometimes expanded even further, as here from the Sunday Mirror in 2000: “The fact that she’s alive at all is a miracle. The hows, whys and wherefores are irrelevant.”

      https://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-why1.htm

      Delete
  2. For speakers of Dutch, German etc. this is always a little amusing, as these constructions are still in daily usage in those languages. In fact they're part of an entirely regular pattern, which used to be productive in English as well: instead of "in that", "on that", "under that", "through that" etc., you use "therein", "thereon", "thereunder, "therethrough", etc. Which can be turned into a question by saying "wherein", "whereon", "whereunder", "wherethrough", and so forth. Somehow, the only commonly used remnant of this structure in English happens to be "therefore", while most users don't recognize its counterpart "wherefore" anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting, thanks for posting. I hadn't made the connection between 'wherefore' and 'therefore' ...before.

      Delete
  3. Of course Scott Adams is too stupid to know this. There's a Peanuts strip from the early 60s (I think) in which Linus explains this to Lucy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. https://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1966/12/17

      Delete
    2. your cited cartoon explains that better that the discussions above!

      I-)

      Delete
    3. I thought the joke is that Dogbert is too stupid - and lacks the self-awareness - to know this.

      Delete
  4. I have the same knee jerk reaction to "begs the question"....

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...