Whilst, amongst, amidst — old-fashioned or normal?

Language peeves can develop when a word or phrase becomes, or seems to become, rapidly popular – ongoing, for example. You begin to notice it everywhere, and you say Enough! And then there are usages people dislike for the opposite reason: they’re no longer popular enough. They have become… old-fashioned.

A recent comment got me thinking about whilst, which is generally synonymous with while but has an older, more poetic or formal flavour. Whilst is too stilted for some, and has declined especially in US usage. Lynne Murphy says it’s considered “pretentious and old-fashioned” in AmE, while Bryan Garner calls it “virtually obsolete” there.

Amongst and amidst share the -st ending that alters their tone in some ears. (Again/against are an exceptional pair, their standard meanings being discrete.) But MWDEU says the commentators who call amongst quaint or overrefined are “off target”, and it has a good discussion of amid and amidst and the supposed distinctions between them.

The -st, if you were wondering, is a fossilised inflection. Michael Quinion says the form

contains the -s of the genitive ending (which we still have today, though usually written as ’s, of course). In Middle English, this was often added to words used as adverbs (as while became whiles, which often turned up in the compound adverbs somewhiles and otherwhiles). What seems to have happened is that a -t was later added in the south of England through confusion with the superlative ending -st (as in gentlest).

I see whilst regularly when editing academic prose, and I don’t change it. Its users don’t find it archaic or affected: it’s simply their instinctive preference in that context. All three words – whilst, amongst, amidst – have fallen from favour a bit, but Google Books data shows they’ve been holding steady for several decades; whilst and amongst, in particular, enjoy plenty of currency in modern British English:

*

While/whilst has two main senses as a conjunction: one temporal, meaning during the time that or as long as; the other contrastive, essentially synonymous with although or whereas. The OED and Merriam-Webster include another, less common sense: similarly and at the same time that (e.g., “while the book will be welcomed by scholars, it will make an immediate appeal to the general reader”).

Here are a few examples of the time-related sense:

Whilst you are discussing fashion, the fashion has gone by.

Please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings.

These foods are strictly forbidden whilst following the diet.

And the contrastive senses:

Whilst no evening meal is provided there are plenty of local pubs.

The Communists favoured wage increases, whilst the other parties argued these would be inflationary.

Whilst that is a very improbable fact, nevertheless it is true.

Some people use whilst in one of these guises but not the other, or they may use while and whilst more or less interchangeably, or other factors may come into play (more on this shortly). Given the slight but significant potential for ambiguity, it’s understandable that some speakers would differentiate them semantically.

Looking up whilst on the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC), I found a strong disparity in both frequency and genre distribution.

COCA:

BNC:

*

I also took four random samplings of whilst-usages from COCA, the BNC, and Google Books US (the examples above come from these sources). The samples were modest (n=100), but they show the transatlantic difference. The temporal sense of whilst was dominant in the US samples, though lower than I expected (63 and 66), while the contrastive senses were marginally more popular (59 and 52) in the UK samples.

Corpus data is fine for figures, less so for feelings and attitudes. So I asked on Twitter and I learned that people find one or other of the -st forms gross, wrong, archaic, cringe-worthy, clumsy, self-important, loathsome, priggish, precious and of course old-fashioned. Others, however, consider them normal, natural, poetic, and lovable, and some described the different ways they used them.

Here’s a flavour:

If you want to see the rest – they make for a fascinating browse – I’ve collected them on Storify. Further opinions and dialectal observations may be read on this ‘Semantic Enigmas’ page at the Guardian.

*

Conventions in language change like fashion. There is a relatively stable core, but on the surface it’s all change: drifts, shifts, cliques and tweaks. Fads arise and trends develop as fast as we can keep up with them, while other changes are gradual but inexorable.

These shifts and patterns are not evenly distributed. A usage may decline in one community while remaining popular in another, where it may develop different connotations or applications. So what strikes one person as fusty or poncey may be routine and useful to another, as we’ve seen with whilst and company.

It’s the difference between finding something wrong or awful, and declaring categorically that it is wrong or awful, and thereby implying there’s something wrong with other dialects. Whilst it’s natural to leap from personal experience to universal proclamation, this is merely a subjective preference, and should be understood as such. It’s a bias.

Your thoughts and observations on whilst, amongst and amidst would be very welcome, be they inclusive or severe. I’ll also update the Storify if you want to respond on Twitter.

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32 Responses to Whilst, amongst, amidst — old-fashioned or normal?

  1. languagehat says:

    I agree with Editors of SpecGram: “All -st varieties seem British in writing & affected in speech.” Except that I don’t think I’ve ever heard them in speech here in the US of A.

  2. John Cowan says:

    I second the Hat, of course. Amidst seems particularly hard to say with its complex consonant cluster in the coda (ouch!).

  3. bevrowe says:

    I always try observe usage and not judge it (!) but “whilst” does irritate. It is often used in official or quasi-official contexts and has an air of “I know the right word to use here and ‘whilst’ is much posher”

  4. marc leavitt says:

    ‘Amongst’ my friends, I mark it not at all,
    ‘Amidst’ a crowd, I never hear its call.
    ‘Whilst’ frequently in some books now appears,
    Specially those that please non-rhotic ears.

  5. alexmccrae1546 says:

    I would venture to say that whilst most Americans would deem “whilst, “amongst” and “amidst” as sounding rather toffy, lofty, affected, or just plain arcane, and thusly*, would avoid using these particular “…st’-ending” words in their casual conversational speech, or social-device communications, we Canadians, particularly of the more educated/ learned class (whomever THEY are?), would not be entirely put off by hearing the aforementioned “… st-ending” words in normal, everyday parlance; especially those of us of the older ‘boomer’ generation, and beyond.

    Perhaps it relates, in some degree, to Canada’s traditional cultural links to Britain, (more exposure to BBC and Sky Network fare and such), that makes “whilst”, or “amongst” less jarring, or off-putting to the attuned Canadian ear?

    Yet, I would surmise that our much younger ‘millennials’ would likely find these quirky words slightly fuddy-duddy, or “kinda weird, dude.”

    (Although not specifically related to the discussion at hand, I wonder if you’ve ever addressed the verbal tic, particularly prevalent with many academics, or so-called experts in their field, when being interviewed, on-air, who predicate their explications (usually in replying to the interviewer’s question) with the word “So….”? For some reason, I find this ‘habit’ especially off-putting. I can’t really pin-point why. Is it just me?)

    *Ah, thusly and perhaps “perchance”— two more odd-ball, dated words. I have no qualms with them, however.

  6. Stan says:

    Hat: Then they’re even rarer than I thought. Burchfield (in his Fowler revision) says whilst is “not used in AmE”, which struck me as extreme.

    John: I use both amid and amidst, depending on surrounding sounds and context and probably chance factors. The consonant cluster gets even more clustery when it’s something like “amidst the trees”, but I’m used to it.

    Bev: I can relate to that. I’ve nothing against the word itself, but it does sometimes appear to be used in a pompous or affected fashion.

    Marc:
    Amid and among
    Are more often sung;
    Whether whilst or while
    Is a matter of style.

    Alex: I would guess the -st forms are less rare in Canada than the US, for the reasons you mention, but I haven’t looked at this systematically.

  7. languagehat says:

    Burchfield (in his Fowler revision) says whilst is “not used in AmE”, which struck me as extreme.

    It doesn’t strike me that way (although of course I’d bow to actual evidence); if I heard someone say “whilst,” I would automatically assume they were from elsewhere.

  8. I wonder how many of the fiction works use these words in old-fashioned settings, as with historical fiction or pre-industrial fantasies that purposely use words that sound a bit stilted or old-fashioned to their authors.

  9. Sharon says:

    Whilst and amongst are banned in the style guide where I work (but not amidst, strangely) so I change them where I find them. They are deemed affected/archaic although they don’t bother me personally.

  10. gelolopez says:

    During the course of working in publishing and online journalism, I often get criticized– by my editors most of the time– for using whilst and amidst. Well, I normally submit to their corrections because the style dictates what should be the output. However, the gossip of pretentiousness that accompanies such usage is kind of uncomfortable because some people readily judge me as “showing off” whenever I use such word. Even my usage of portmanteau is criticized just because they normally don’t use it.

    My point is, I agree with you that such “taste” for this kind of words should be left to the writer as it is a part of their aesthetic vision as writers themselves. It is not a way to show-off or whatsoever.

  11. Eugene says:

    The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the -s as genitive and the -t in -st as “parasitic” or “excrescent,” so those who say they use it in particular phonetic environments are echoing that history. The release of the alveolar fricative would sound like a stop in some contexts. Speakers and writers heard it that way and propagated it.
    If you read a lot of classic literature, you’re exposed to a significant number of -st endings. If you use those forms in your writing, or especially your speech, you’ll sound a little like a character from classic literature. That might sound clever, or quaint, or cringe-worthy depending on the social context. It does sound a bit archaic, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing or ‘wrong’.

  12. limr says:

    Here are some odd data points that might not fit the expected pattern: Every semester, some colleagues and I spend several weeks on reading placement essays. It’s an open enrollment community college, so students have to take tests to determine if they can take college-level classes or if they need remedial work. I see essays written by anyone from wealthy students who graduated from top private schools to ex-cons who decided to turn their lives around while in prison (There! I prefer ‘while’). I’ve seen quite a few of them who use the -st variations, and not only in the better essays written by the more capable writers. I’ve seen it in essays written by 19-year-old girls from the Bronx who already have 2 kids and a stint in rehab. I’d be hard-pressed to believe they were using -st words to put on airs and sound like an old fuddy-duddy.

    Granted, I don’t see them in every essay and the sans -st versions are much more common, but they definitely show up more often than you’d think if the pattern was that older, more pretentious, more educated people used -st while younger people eschew them.

    On the other hand, one of the colleagues who also reads these essays is an older man, a classicist – he even wears tweed and smokes a pipe. He gets annoyed when people say ‘long-lived’ with a short i instead of /ay/, or ‘va’garies’ instead of the older ‘vagar’ies’. Perfect fodder for ‘whilst’ and friends, no? No, indeed. He not only objects to the -st variations, but he gets downright nasty about the people ‘rude and pretentious’ enough to use them.

    As for me, ‘whilst’ feels more formal (but not obnoxiously so) and sounds much more natural (when spoken) coming from a non-American (or Canadian) accent, but ‘amongst’ and ‘amidst’ feel perfectly normal, written or spoken. In fact, ‘among’ and ‘amid’ feel almost…naked. At least when written. I think. It’s a little late and my mind is a bit fuzzy from cold medication.

    For demographics purpose: 40s, NYC metro area childhood, lots and lots and lots of exposure to non-native and non-American varieties of English (which probably throws a lot of my data out in many a linguistic survey ;) )

    • alexmccrae1546 says:

      I appreciate your point(s) that in a sense we should not be too quick to prejudge, or make snap assumptions about people, based solely on their outward appearance, age, apparent station in life, erudition, or, dare I say, social ‘class’. (This general axiom would hold true for many other aspects of life, as well.)

      Yet I’d argue that -st words showing up in essays of 19-year old gals from the Bronx who have kids, and have done addiction rehab stints, in my view, is about as anomalous as “Kid Rock” Ritchie, proud born-and bred Detroit booster and wild Rock&Roll force-of-nature, being solidly behind Mitt Romney’s recent GOP presidential bid for the White House. Counter-intuitive, to say the least, in most folks books. (But then again, Elvis and Richard Nixon appeared to be bosom buddies. So go figure.)

      In my earlier observation re/ older, educated Canadians perhaps being more comfortable with hearing, or even using the -st words, I wasn’t necessarily implying that EVERY ‘boomer-and-beyond’ would opt for -st words in their casual conversation, or even formal writing, or that ALL young ‘millennials’ wouldn’t use, or be put off by -st word usage…. considering them “fuddy-duddy”, as I put it earlier.

      It seems that there will always be exceptions to the norm…. case in point, your example of the tweedy classicist, who most would assume from his somewhat lofty professional status and outward mien would be a -st word booster, and user. But was apparently far from it. (Pointing out the inherent danger of prejudgement, using stereotyped evidential reasoning.)

      Echoing Stan’s sentiments in this regard, it does appear to come down to individual preference in many instances, and the particular context in which these -st words are used.

      Lenore, you do make a strong argument, nonetheless. I believe we agree, more than disagree here.

      • limr says:

        Alex, I absolutely agree. A few anecdotal data points aren’t enough to overthrow an expected pattern – for objects subject to the laws of physics, perhaps, but certainly not when that pattern concerns human behavior. We are far too inconsistent for there to be no exceptions! (I know what you mean about Kid Rock, although just 2 weeks ago, I heard an interview of him by Howard Stern. He’s a solidly Mid-Western, gun-loving boy, so the Republican leanings make more sense now.)

        Just as I enjoy finding patterns in human behavior (and especially linguistic behavior), I also find it fascinating to try to understand the anomalies that I also see. I suppose they are the sparks that get me searching for new, different or alternative patterns. I found the unexpected presence of the -st varieties to be really unexpected in these placement readings, so reading Stan’s post sent me off on one of my tangent searches.

        I can understand some of our wealthier students using the -st words to sound ‘smarter’ or more sophisticated. I could totally see them trying to put on airs, and given the audience they are used to, I could see how ‘whilst’ or ‘amongst’ would impress.

        What really confounded me were the students who would use them in the same essay as a sentence such as, “I would never judge a book by its cover because I’ve be judged by mines.” (no typos there – that’s verbatim). For example, we have a LOT of students from Jamaica and Nigeria whose native language may be English but it’s a very ‘non-standard’ (if, of course, we could agree on a standard! ;) ) variety of English which has been more heavily influenced by British, not American, English. From these students, a ‘whilst’ wouldn’t surprise me.

        But what about an American who grew up in a predominantly Jamaican or West African neighborhood? First generation, or even friends of first generation Americans, for example. How would their “standard” American English be influenced? Could a few variations of words that are traditionally associated with older or British speakers sneak in?

        Funnily enough, there was an example from this morning’s readings: “In many playgrounds, whether at elementary schools or ordinary neighborhood parks, garbage is laying on the ground. It seems as though people hang out when the parks are closed. They leave bottles, which are broken into pieces of glass amongst slides.” The entire essay was rather tortured as well – more misused words and punctuation, and awkward participles – so the presence of the ‘amongst’ just seems so incongruous.

      • limr says:

        “…the unexpected presence of the -st varieties to be really unexpected…?

        Oh dear. Does that fact that I was at work for 12 hours today give me a pass for this one? *shakes head*

        It does remind me of yet another quote from a different essay this morning: “But the real question is, would you know how to do something without knowing how to do it?”

        And yes, I do collect lines from essays I see over the course of a semester. Not just humorous ones, but oddball ones that, like I’ve said, lead me off on tangents. I’ve got quite a collections. Here’s a piece about a few of the quotations I’ve amassed:

        http://asalinguist.com/2011/05/11/where-do-i-even-start/

  13. Stan says:

    Hat: Thanks. I’m adjusting my hunches accordingly.

    Erin: That’s a good question. I imagine there’s also significant use of whilst and co. in fiction not set historically, just because they feel more literary to many writers.

    Sharon: Except when they appear in reported speech, presumably. They’re an obvious target for style guides; I’d be impressed if any explicitly said they were acceptable.

    Gelolopez: It’s understandable that a style guide would proscribe these words, but it’s unfair that you would be judged as pretentious for using them. Some people use them affectedly, but for many others they’re just the natural, preferred forms.

    Eugene: Well said, and thank you for the phonetic note. The -st forms do sound archaic to a lot of people, and probably to more and more unless the words’ usage increases, but judgement should allow for dialect, context, and plain old variety.

    Leonore: Fascinating, thank you. I love that these words’ usage is so unpredictable at individual level, and I’m especially curious about their appearance in the writing of “19-year-old girls from the Bronx”. I wonder where they picked it up. Your remark that amid feels almost naked rings quite true for me too. I use it sometimes, but I think I normally prefer amidst. (Researching them has messed with my linguistic self-observation, which was unreliable enough to begin with.)

  14. mollymooly says:

    There is at least one pair where the -st form is relatively more common in the US than the UK, namely This may be a temporary difference: Google nGrams shows the -st form gaining in the US since the 60s, and in the UK slightly later.

    The obsolescence of “amidst” is retarded by the continuing currency of “midst” in “in the midst of” and “in their midst” (and even, with some semantic drift, “in my midst”).

    I think I use “while” in the temporal sense, but either “while” or, less often, “whilst” in the contrastive sense.

  15. Ado_Annie says:

    @limr, I would assume that most of the essay submissions are from people who read, copiously, and might tend to write a formal paper in the way they feel that formality should sound. I began reading Agatha Christie when I was 10 or so and began a love affair with British writing, interesting words, jargon and slang that has lasted for (muffle, umm, mumble) decades. I read the ‘st’ words without thinking about them, but here in Texas I don’t hear them spoken unless, as others have noted, conversing with a non-American English speaker and then it sounds quite normal. The word that really gives me a little ear twitch, though, whether spoken or read, is ‘learnt.’

    I ran into it just a few days ago on a blog post where the commenter wrote, “. . . what I’ve learnt from this experience is . . .” While the ‘st’ ending tends to sound endearingly Brit to me, the ‘t’ ending just seemed to be a shortening of ‘ed.’ Funny what catches one’s attention.

    • limr says:

      From some of the students, I agree that it might be an influence from reading. However, a large proportion of our students are in the position of needing remedial work in reading and writing because they do _not_ have a strong habit of reading This is a community college, and yes, we get students who are strong academically and are just looking to save some money before transferring to a 4-year school. But the majority of our students are here because they are trying to catch up for whatever reason and my guess is that there are precious few avid readers among them. Oops, I mean amongst them ;)

  16. Gnome Alice says:

    I use whilst & amongst but less frequently than the non -st versions. Can’t specify exactly how I choose. One or the other form feels ‘right’ in a particular context.
    I don’t think I ever use ‘amid'; always use ‘amidst’.

  17. dw says:

    To me, “whilst” is both pretentious and British (comparable to the Capitalization of Important Words that also seems more common in the UK). Amongst and amidst are merely quaint.

    I grew up in England and moved to California fifteen years ago. I presume that my “whilst”-aversion has intensified in the US: I’m not sure whether it originated here.

  18. Stan says:

    mollymooly: That’s a good point about amidst: without those common midst phrases, it would presumably sound stranger to many people and therefore be used a good deal less. I use unbeknownst very rarely, but I see it far more often than unbeknown. Both are a bit odd, but I don’t mind them.

    Annie: I wondered about the influence of reading material too. Beyond our own experience, we can only speculate.

    Alice: Thanks for contributing. I’m often not very clear either on how I choose which form to use. I’ll have to try and catch myself in the act!

    dw: Whilst is quite popular in Irish English too, but even here there are some who would find it pretentious. When editing, I take special satisfaction in removing unnecessary capitals.

  19. alexmccrae1546 says:

    @limr,

    Your point re/ a more formalized Brit inflection, or word usage in the parlance of West Indian English, (with say expat Jamaicans or Barbadians living in America), is well taken.

    From my own perspective, I’ve remained in close contact over many years with my best buddy, a Trinidadian fellow, from my art college days in Toronto back in the early ’70s. His ethnic background is a combination of mostly East indian, plus a smattering of Middle-Eastern lineage, and perhaps a hint of Chinese blood… last name “Mohammed”.

    Although he came to study in Canada with just his high-school matriculation, he told me that the schooling in his highly literate country was rather rigorous; and in fact, their final high-school exam which determined their post-graduate fortunes (“A”-levels ?), and prospects for future university placement, was set in Britain– the exact same test that British kids were obliged to take in order to ultimately graduate.

    I noticed early on in our budding friendship at art school that he
    would often toss in some, what I thought at the time were, rather formal, or slightly odd words into our conversation, including, on occasion, “whilst”, “amongst” and the like. I kind of interpreted this slight ‘affectation’ to a bit of flexing of his erudition, trying to impress his new Canadian peers.

    But looking back in retrospect, I think this was more a case of having inculcated a kind of formalistic, more polished manner of speech, growing up, where most folk back in Trinidad wouldn’t even bat an ear, in hearing what many in America would deem quirky, arcane, or toffy-sounding words, or phrases.

    It really does come down to familiarity and context, to a great degree.

    Fascinating stuff, nonetheless.

  20. Here’s an attempt to summarise the most salient feature of the n-gram result. The last time whilst and amongst were as common in American English as they are in British English today was around 1885. And in 1885, they were more common in British English than they had been in American English for a century before that.

    I found the discussion in the MWDEU links comparing amid(st) to among(st) particularly interesting, as I find it harder to articulate the semantic difference across rather than within those pairs. I found it helpful to visualise them as species of animal, with amid(st) as a more adaptable species that can survive in a wider variety of habitats, and among(st) as a species that out-competes amid(st) in the most fertile habitats but struggles to survive beyond its comfort zone.

    Here’s a brief list of contexts where amid(st) can be used (habitats in my metaphor), along with corresponding examples from the MWDEU discussion. First, amid(st) is often used when the focal item is surrounded by events rather than objects (e.g. “There they all fell, amid yells and hissing curses and shrieks of pain“). Second, amid(st) can be used to emphasise the vastness of the surroundings in relation to the focal item (e.g. “floating amidst the planets and stars“, and note the hint of synecdoche in this example, which is more about the space containing the planets and stars than the astronomical objects themselves). Third, amid(st) can be a better fit when the focal item stands out by virtue of being a tall object surrounded by flat ones (e.g. “situated in palaces, amidst beautiful parks“). None of these three contexts has anything in common with another, but might — as I suggested — be visualised as habitats of a more adaptable species pushed to the fringes by a more aggressive one.

    As I said in the Storify, I personally make semantic distinctions between while vs whilst and between among vs amongst, and see a difference of register between amid vs amidst (the former being used almost exclusively by journalists, as far as I can tell). I don’t know where I picked up these differences, but it’s probably simply that I’ve internalised different prototype sentences for each word against which to judge its appropriateness.

    An alternative way to express my distinctions between while and whilst might be that I see while as treating two simultanous events as distinct and whilst as unifying them. In that case, “X-ing while Y-ing” suggests there is X-ing and there is Y-ing and they happen to occur simultanously, whereas “X-ing whilst Y-ing” suggests the composite action of X+Y-ing as distinct from the mere sum of its parts. The semantic and syntactic distinctions I make seem reasonable from this perspective. (Also, I never ever use whilst in the sense of although/whereas; always while.)

    I didn’t mention among vs amongst until late in the Storify because I wasn’t confident in my answers, and feared that I’d forgotten some important qualification. In fact, I decided to submit them only after catching myself use one of them in writing, and realising that the other would sound wrong to me. (As I said, I tend to use “X among Y” when X is a member of Y, and “X amongst Y” when it is not.)

    Of course, other people are welcome to adapt my distinctions, but there is no chance that they will. For better or worse I don’t have that kind of influence…

  21. Stan says:

    Thanks for your very interesting thoughts on this, Adrian. I don’t use whilst very often, but when I do it’s usually in the concessive sense, and then only in fairly formal contexts, I think. Nothing more fine-grained than that. My use of amongst may be motivated by subsequent sound more than anything else. So the semantic distinctions you observe between them (and across the amid(st)/among(st) pairs) are fascinating, and much appreciated.

    Corpus data confirm your impression that amid is used mainly in journalism. Distribution graph from COCA:

    and the BNC:

    Cf. amidst in COCA:

    and the BNC:

    • It probably goes without saying, but the semantic differences may not be exactly as I described them. I’m confident about the prototypical cases, but otherwise they should be taken as first approximations only.

      For example, where I say among corresponds to group membership, it may be more the case that I see among as emphasising unity with the group and amongst as emphasising contrast. That will typically correspond to whether an item is a member of the group or not, but it needn’t do so. In a sentence like “Somewhere among(st) the things in my suitcase is a book I thought you might enjoy“, the book belongs to the set of “things in my suitcase“, but I might nevertheless use amongst because there’s a sense of contrast between the book and everything else.

      • gelolopez says:

        It’s interesting what you have pointed out about the inclusive/exclusive usage of among and amongst. This reminds me of Western Languages use of the first person plural pronoun “We”. The first-person plural in Western languages is both used in the inclusive and exclusive sense. What I find interesting is that in some other languages, like what we have here in the Philippines (Filipino), there are two pronouns used to identify the distinction between the two. For instance, in Filipino we say kami to say the “exclusive we” and tayo to say the “inclusive” sense.

        I know this might be off-topic but do you have an explanation about that Stan? I would be glad to know if there is a sort of a background about this differences. :)

      • @gelolopez On this map, a blue circle indicates a language like English with one word for both inclusive/exclusive “we”, and a red circle indicates a language like Filipino with two different words. Click on “chapter text” near the top right of the page for a somewhat techical overview.

        I doubt there’s any explanation other than that it’s just part of the way different languages have evolved and spread. It’s a useful distinction to make, but not a necessary one, so some languages make it and others don’t. The above map is one way to put the difference into a broader context.

      • @gelolopez One question you might ask is how a language without an inclusive/exclusive distinction can acquire it for the first time. The short answer seems to be that sometimes a phrase like “you and me” gets fused together into a single word, and other times a word is borrowed from a neighbouring language. But the only discussions I can find are highly technical ones and usually limited to specific languages ( http://is.gd/tQvVTk http://is.gd/1PGjy5 http://is.gd/UNqmiq ).

  22. [...] “amongst” and “amidst”, and discussed the results in a blog post. The meat is in the links and comments (and not just [...]

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