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Helen Harper

Whilst?

  • January 05, 2014
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I’m British. Well, Scottish, if you really want to get into it, but my passport says British. And even if I’ve lived in Japan for years and Malaysia for more, my language and my writing are rooted in that heritage. One of the elements of that heritage involves, perhaps oddly for some, the word ‘whilst’.

It seemed perfectly normal to me. A quick scan through my first novel, Bloodfire, throws up the following:

“Fortunately the fact that I spent all my time with my pack meant that the worst of my so-called human stench was already covered from just sheer transference, whilst the lotion did all the rest.”

And…

“It might be better to get it out of the way whilst we can still maintain some control over the situation.”

As well as…

“Behind the keep, out of sight, was Julia’s little herb garden which she used to grow any manner of weeds with which to feed her various concoctions, whilst in front lay a long drive covered in pale pink shale which had the unnerving habit of jumping up by themselves and chipping a long line of visitors’ gleaming car paint.”

I didn’t think there was a problem. That was until, of course, an Australian friend helped me proofread my third book, Bloodrage. Every time I wrote ‘whilst’ (and there were a lot of times), she highlighted it and changed it to ‘while’. We argued playfully. She was adamant that it wasn’t a word. I was equally determined to tell her that it was. Besides, I was the author, I was British, and I was going to use ‘whilst’ if I damn well wanted to.

And then I received a review on Amazon.com complaining that there were just too many ‘whilsts’. Followed by another on a similar vein. Then I read a comment on a forum for self-publishers for something to the same effect. Okay. Anyone who has read book four and beyond will be in a position to note the absence of that one little word because I’m suddenly, glaringly, aware of it. I had to proofread someone else’s writing recently (yes, another Brit), and it was full of instances of ‘whilst’. Clearly ‘whilst’ is idiosyncratically British. I’ve temporarily beaten out the urge to litter my writing with it, but it still occasionally sneaks in. It makes me wonder what else is in there that is jarring for others. Certainly there are other culturally distinct phrases that never cross the waters. ‘I couldn’t care less’ (UK) and ‘I could care less’ (US) is one comparison that always has me pausing, given that grammatically they are opposite, but contextually in meaning they are the same.

Whilst 😉 writing this, I am wondering whether you can think of any more?

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