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a while or awhile?

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a while or awhile?

Postby KatyBr » Sat Apr 09, 2005 11:26 pm

In his "Treasury for Word Lovers," Morton Freeman laid down a workable rule 20 years ago: Spell it as one word after a verb, two words after a preposition. By that rubric, reader Kline had it right -- he was staying awhile in Chicago, and also staying for a while. The rule works for me, but you should be aware that Merriam-Webster characteristically opts for anarchy: "Follow your own feel for the expression, and write it as one word when that seems right and as two words when that seems right." The distinction "is not important at all."


Before dropping the topic, let me rant once more about the abuse of "while" in the sense of "although" or "because." Consider two Horrid Examples from The New York Times a year ago: "Mr. Handwerker said that while (read 'although') he agreed with the reasoning behind the government's timetable, the company's engineers would find a way ..." And in the same article: "The contractors say that while (read 'because') they can move more quickly, they are pleased to operate ..."


What about "all right" and "alright"? For a good many centuries the two-word version was the only version. In the early 1900s, "alright" crept into newspapers and popular magazines, but it was not until 1934 that it passed through the heavenly portals of professional lexicography. Why the wait? The language had long welcomed such respectable unions, e.g.: altogether, albeit, already, although. Theodore Dreiser put "alright" to work in his manuscript for "The Genius" (1915). James Joyce used it in Molly Bloom's interminable soliloquy (1922). It strikes me as an inoffensive melding -- even though The Associated Press Stylebook emphatically disagrees. The choice lies in a writer's ear and eye.
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=2207&e=2&u=/ucjk/20050406/cm_ucjk/lookingatawhileandanyway


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Why a while is alright.

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Apr 09, 2005 11:50 pm

Katy,

This is a question of style and tradition more than linguistics, but here is how I think it should work.

"Alright" makes sense because its meaning has changed. It now means "OK" and not that everything is right. In fact, "Everything is all right" strikes me as redundant.

"While", however, is a noun that maintains its meaning in "a while" whether with or without a preposition. We don't combine "a week" in "I worked a week", why should we in "I worked a while"? There is no difference in meaning here.

"While" is defective (no plural) but I don't see how that would affect the agument that it should be treated the same as "week", "hour", "day" a propos the indefinite article. Even if it is used idiomatically, idioms are not written without spaces.
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Postby KatyBr » Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:06 am

I was pretty sure some people might enjoy discussing the points made,

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Postby tcward » Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:17 am

Awhile vs. a while...

This is one of those things that always makes me pause. There are times when "a while" definitely looks more correct to me.

This job took a while longer than I expected!

vs.

This job took a while! Longer than I expected!

These sentences have slightly different meanings to me.

"While" is a funny word anyway, isn't it?

while
O.E. hwile, acc. of hwil "a space of time," from P.Gmc. *khwilo (cf. O.S. hwil, O.Fris. hwile, O.H.G. hwila, Ger. Weile, Goth. hveila "space of time, while"), originally "rest" (cf. O.N. hvila "bed," hvild "rest"), from PIE *qwi- "rest" (cf. Avestan shaitish "joy," O.Pers. shiyatish "joy," L. quies "rest, repose, quiet," O.C.S. po-koji "rest"). Notion of "period of rest" became in Gmc. "period of time." M.E. sense of "time spent in doing something" now only preserved in worthwhile. As a conjunction (late O.E.), it represents O.E. þa hwile þe. The verb meaning "to pass (the time)" is attested from 1635, from the adverb.

awhile
O.E. ane hwile "(for) a while," usually written together since 13c.

erstwhile
1569, from M.E. erest "soonest, earliest" (see ere) + while (q.v.).


Interesting! So the adverb form has been around since the 13th Century. Well that definitely gives it staying power.

Anyway, my earlier point was that in the second example I provided, I'm always tempted to say "awhile" instead of "a while"...

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Postby KatyBr » Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:44 am

I could say: It's been awhile since we sauntered down to the lake for a while.
I found the article interesting but I didn't necessarily agree with everything.
He had several minor rants going in the one article.

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Postby gailr » Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:36 pm

Katy, if, after a while, someone invites you to saunter down to the lake to while away the afternoon for a while, be wary of his wiles.
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Postby KatyBr » Sun Apr 10, 2005 4:45 pm

gailr wrote:Katy, if, after a while, someone invites you to saunter down to the lake to while away the afternoon for a while, be wary of his wiles.
gailr

My dear Gailr, at my age the wiles are welcome!

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