I was startled by a minor headline beginning “From Whence … “ I actually don’t remember what came after the From Whence, since my thought wandered precisely at that point, and I didn’t regain consciousness till some other distraction awoke me from my reverie.
As soon as I got the chance, I looked it up. It turns out that “from whence” is not a mistake made by a modern writer. It has firm and respectable roots. Michael Quinion has written about it in World Wide Words.
I have long been trying to silence those who object to “where … at.” I now have another arrow in my quiver – a real good nother arrow!
This one stuck in my mind for years, never thought to ask any one- and still am not quite comfortable with it, however nice it sounds. 1 problem is it seems ‘to’ is missing after ‘going back.’
All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.John F. Kennedy, Speech given at Newport at the dinner before the America’s Cup Races, September 1962
Looking again- JFK was inconsistent here: ‘to’ is swallowed up into whence, but ‘from’ is allowed to stick out.
I don’t think that “to” is missing from the quote. The basic clause is “… we are going back there.” No “to” is required. The “there” is “(there,) from whence we came.”
In more colloquial terms, “We are going back where we came from.” There is no “to” required. Kennedy — or his ghost writer — clearly wanted to avoid offending any of those tight-buns who might balk at a sentence ended with a preposition. Once you invert the prepositional phrase, to adjoin the “from” and the “where,” those same stuck-ups would probably clamor for “whence” to replace “where.”
Stuffy, pretentious, clumsy, but fine.
Disagree with your statement ‘…to adjoin the “from” and the “where,” those same stuck-ups would probably clamor for “whence” to replace “where.” ‘ because the result would be ‘from whence,’ and surely that redundant ‘from’ must be to them just as egregious as when it was a dangling preposition.
Other than that, I gather that air-tight tight-buns constructions would be like these:
Going back there from where we came (preposition ‘from’ properly disdangled)
Going back there whence we came (preposition ‘from’ properly tucked away out of sight)
Will they still be good if ‘there’ is dropped, the rest unaltered? Probably not- would sound like lacking something.
Now even disregard the ‘going back’ part, this whence business looks like nothing but trouble. If you say ‘from whence,’ tight-buns will object, but rightly, because it is true that ‘from’ is redundant, in spite of the credible precedents (post #1 above). And further, why not use the simple honest-to-god ‘from where’ instead ?
On the other hand, if you use ‘whence’ (without ‘from’), you are correct, but now you sound officious and curt, like a tight-buns yourself, just because you drop the lubricating ‘from.’
Most languages embrace redundancy, especially in spoken language. It helps to avoid misunderstandings. It is great to own things “free and clear.” Violations of agreements render them “null and void.” Keep your distance from dogs that are “soaking wet.”
Proper English is full of redundancy. Redundancy is a spurious criterion for judging grammar, syntax, vocabulary, or style. The tight-buns may object on that basis, but not rightly.
e.g. We say “I am hungry.” The function of “I” is to mark the first person singular. “Am” already conveys fully the 1st person singular. Nobody argues that “Am hungry” is better English than “I am hungry.”
It is kind of relative and subjective how wrong a usage must be to be really wrong. Case in point: we had this discussion concerning ‘Whatever that’ wherein you enlightened us all of why the ‘that’ in there was redundant, same as ‘from’ is redundant in ‘from whence,’ except you settled on the side that it was wrong enough to be outright wrong.
I do reckon ‘from whence’ has some established uses whereas ‘whatever that’ is little more than give-away of foreigners. Except apparently nobody else in that discussion came on that side until you weighed in.
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