Opinion: Stop Using ‘Whilst’

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

By Joshua Wagner, Opinions Editor

The chiefly British term from the 14th century is used strictly as a conjunction and a relative adverb; however, it is more commonly used to communicate one’s pretentious nature.  Slipping in a quick ‘whilst’ is a surefire way to display one’s mastery of the English language, unlike the rather banal and more versatile ‘while.’ Whip out a ‘whilst’ over break, and your family and friends will be humbled by a truly superior intellect!

While ‘whilst’ may have been the conjunction of choice at the first Thanksgiving, its fifteen minutes of fame have expired.  In existence since the 12th century and still going strong, the term ‘while’ eclipses the use of ‘whilst.’ In fact, the word ‘while’ is used 632.8 times out of every million words written while ‘whilst’ is used only 27.7 times per million according to the Oxford English Corpus (OEC).

Americans are even less likely to use ‘whilst’ in a sentence, since only 6.9% of the word’s usage occurs in the United States.  However, the United States is home to around two thirds of people who speak English as a first language. 44.4% of the use of ‘whilst’ comes from British English. We conclude that modern American usage is mainly to form a semblance of literacy.

One reason ‘while’ is used more often is that it has more uses.  It can be a noun, a verb, a relative adverb, a conjunction, or a preposition.  Meanwhile, ‘whilst’ can only serve as a conjunction or a relative adverb. That’s right—’whilst’ is like a specialized kitchen gadget from a televised ad channel.  It has limited use, and you don’t talk about it in public.

Upon consulting the vast compendium of human knowledge which is the online Urban Dictionary, we find that the use of ‘whilst’ is considered anachronistic and should be relegated to the past where it belongs.  Several colorful examples are provided to illustrate this point.

Whether you take writing cues from the cultural phenomenon Urban Dictionary, the statelier Oxford English Dictionary, or the omniscient Opinions Section of the Gettysburgian, the consensus is that ‘whilst’ must go.  While writing, consider whether ‘whilst’ better conveys your point or if you are just bloating an already puffy ego.

Author: Joshua Wagner

Josh Wagner '19 is a chemistry and mathematics double major who enjoys bike rides on the battlefield and waving around a red pen as the Gettysburgian's Managing Opinions Editor. When not editing for the Gettysburgian, he can usually be found working in the College Life Office, helping students with calculus as a PLA, or studying in the library.

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  1. Good point, I only use “whilst” to be self-consciously ironic.

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  2. I’m not buying your argument. There are many times where whilst flows better than while. It’s an innocuous word, unlike many of the other words that come out of my mouth 🤐. Trust me, you want me to continue to use whilst 😂

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  3. I am an English poet and I like to use ‘whilst’ where the following word starts with a vowel and conversely ‘while’ where the next word starts with a consonant. I find that the prose flows much more smoothly and comfortably using this method.
    This is, of course, a rule to which there are inevitable exceptions.

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  4. I don’t take anyone seriously if they use the word. If I come across an article with it, I immediately stop reading. Just this single word gives away the writer is pretentious.

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    • I do the exact same thing!

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