The Whence Offense
By Evan Jenkins
It started as a modest little essay. Then came
Holy Writ and the Bard.
"Whence," a word used in our time for comic or poetic effect, means "from where." That makes "from whence" an irritating tautology:
"But politicians who forget from whence they came&133;"
"&133;from whence has this buxom cherub descended?"
"&133;from whence came fish and chips?"
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."
That's how the lovely, much-quoted 121st Psalm begins in the King James and other English-language Bibles, and how millions remember it to this day. And Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage notes that the use of "from" with "whence" is ancient and that the users included, in the King James era though less memorably, Shakespeare.
But immortals have special rights (and Shakespeare, the old shark, also gave us "most unkindest cut" in the service of iambic euphony).
About "from whence," the generally wise and wonderful Merriam-Webster's concludes, "We see no great fault in using it where it sounds right, and great writers have used it where it sounds right all along."
Hmph, or something. Let's let "from whence" go. It had its run in the seventeenth century.