The word "whilst?"

On another thread someone had a link to a show called “Prisoner Cell Block H” from Australia. So I started watching the show

I noticed (as did someone else) that the Governor of the prison always says “whilst.”

I have never heard of anyone using that word before. No one else on the show really seems to use it.

Is whilst an Australian word or and English word?

The actress playing her is Patsy King.

It’s pretty common in the UK.

Very common in Canada, too (I saw it all the time in college students’ writing-- very normal). Doesn’t have the snooty connotations as in the US.

Some speakers make a distinction in meaning between them, which has something to do with whether the dependent phrase has a verb in it. I am an American, so I only say “while.” Looking around online, most sources seem to say that this is an artificial or dialectal distinction, but Mr. Mallard is pretty consistent. For example, while walking vs. whilst I was walking.

My students are fond of writing “amidst,” “amongst,” and “whilst,” I think because they think it makes them look smarter. I wouldn’t mind if they could manage to write consistently in British style, but they cannot.

‘Whilst’ is common in Canada? Where? I’m Canadian, and I have never heard it from another Canadian.

Ok, I see it a lot in writing in B.C. Perhaps it’s regional?

I confess to being a Canadian who uses ‘whilst’ occasionally. I don’t know where I picked it up from; I get made of for it periodically, so I guess it’s not exactly common. It just seems to flow better sometimes. I never thought of it as being snooty.

Perhaps. I can’t recall ever seeing or hearing it in normal writing or speech in Alberta.

We aren’t that sophisticated in Manitoba - very rare to hear or see it used here.

And remember folks, it’s pronounced with a long i - “while’st,” not “whillst,” which sounds like a card game.

I make a distinction, but I’ve never really thought about what it is - I just know that one or the other seems “right”.

“Whilst I don’t mind chicken, I won’t eat it while there’s steak in the fridge.”

Sydney buses all used to have a sign saying

As a kid I thought it had something to do with whistling.

When Prisoner was made it was already an old fashioned usage, now I wouldn’t have heard the word said in seriousness for 20 years. IMO there’s no shade of meaning for it over and above “while”.

Since we seem to be working our way eastward across Canada, Saskatchewan person checking in to say that I do use whilst reasonably regularly, as do some people that I know, but I wouldn’t say that it is common place.

I started a pit thread about it a very long time ago and it can’t be found. I find “whilst” to be suffocatingly dorky and falsely pretentious like walking up to a Dungeons and Dragons freak randomly on the street and having him use “whilst” at every opportunity. The only benefit that I can see is being a 100% effective birth control.

United Statian here, I use whilst a lot, not sure where I picked it up, could be all those European people (few UK and few German) I hung around with in elementary and middle school. It’s hard for me to tell exactly what my rule is, it seems to have to do with the presence of a pronoun and something like was. (To use the example above Whilst I was walking v while walking). Unless of course I’m being poetic in which all bets are off and I’ll use whatever I damn well please for poeticifulness.

Amidst and amongst are a bit different. Amidst the chaos and amid the chaos for instance. Amidst just plain sounds correct there (to my ear at least). I can’t thin of any among/amongst examples off hand, but I know I’ve heard things where one form or the other sounds completely out of place.

When i lived in Australia, i frequently used “whilst” in my formal writing, such as university research papers, etc.

After moving to the US for grad school, i used it in a couple of papers. My adviser told me that it’s generally not used in America, and is considered archaic and inappropriate, so i don’t use it anymore. But it’s generally considered perfectly acceptable in the UK and Australia, especially in formal writing.

This word needs to be revived. Someone think up a totally inane rule, divorced from all logic and usage both current and historical, and deride people for not following it. We’ll have Safire preaching it from his bully pulpit within the fortnight, and the illiterate pedants will flock to it like sheep!

I use both words, although - like TheLoadedDog - I’m not sure if I follow any hard and fast rules about it - some of it depends on the sound of adjacent words, for example: “Whilst standing here” is awkward, because of the repeated ‘st’ sound - so I’d say “While standing here” (or maybe “While I stand here” or something).

It does have at least two distinct meanings though:

  • ‘while’ - as in things happening or being done concurrently (“can you walk whilst chewing gum?”)
  • and ‘although’ - (“Whilst I admire his stance on this this particular issue, the man is an ass”)

I’m with the whilst Commonwealth tribe, I use whilst quite often.

Amongst is a word I use very often, admist I use but not as naturally.

Is it just me or does “often” just sound wrong?

Veronica (upon learning that Archie went out with Betty the previous night): WHAT GOES ON WHILST I SLEEP?

Pop Tate (thinking): “Whilst. That shows class!”

Actual panel from a 1970s Archie comic.
I’m sorry, but to this American (and I think this is a typical experience) “whilst” is an unusual word about as common as “thou” or “doest”. Like those words, it’s more likely to be misused (because we don’t use it), and regarded as pretentious, unless used in a play.