Whine lovers

Complaining with a British accent

People do a lot of whining. Lately, though, many publications seem to be spelling the complainers (or their complaints) differently.

One editorial said of New York’s subway system: “But quick as a wink, the system was back, with nearly all lines back to pre-storm quality - which, on most days, is pretty damned good, no matter what the professional MTA whingers say.

A blog posting said of a billionaire,” Listen to David whinge on and on.”

While Word’s spelling ability should not be your master, it should be a clue that is spell checker does not recognize “whinge,” unless its language is set to English (UK).

As Jean Marbella wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “whinge” is “a Britishism, rhymes with ‘hinge,’ that doesn’t exactly translate into the American version of our — marginally — shared language. The closest equivalent is the word it most resembles, ‘whining,’ but with an added dose of fretfulness and, more importantly, an almost gleeful sense of impending doom.” The New York Times said that, for Britons “whinging” is “the persistent low-grade grousing that is their default response to life’s challenges, is part of the national condition — as integral to the country’s character as its Eeyoreish attitude toward the weather.”

The Oxford English Dictionary, the mother’s milk of the mother tongue, says a “whinge” is “A whine,esp. a peevish complaint.” But most “whines” have a sense of peeve to them anyway, so what’s the difference?

The difference seems to be in how “whinge” is used in the U.S. While its use seems limited to informal contexts, it often carries a sense of snark, a “poor you,” followed by an epithet that has a book named after it. But “whinge” is rarely pronounced here as the British do, so the snark can be lost to a listener. That makes it a subtlety without purpose. Often the use of “whinge” says more about the person using it than the target, so beware.

Many American dictionaries now include “whinge” with the British pronunciation, though they did not include it at all as recently as 20 years ago. (Its use apparently was limited to England for many years; The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang traces it only to 1934 in Australia.)

“Whingeing” is still uncommon enough among those who are not devotees of Downton Abbey that it might be best to stick with the good ol’ American “whining.” If you do use it, don’t be surprised if readers, not recognizing the irony, “whinge” about it.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: , , , , ,