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'among' vs 'amid'

Posted by GPP on July 27, 2003

In Reply to: Re: While vs whilst posted by GPP on July 27, 2003

: : : : : Is there any logic at all to the use of the word 'whilst'? It's often used in place of "while" in print in the UK. However, I don't recall hearing it much. Is it archaic? I know it's a contaction, but of what?

: : : : Not a contraction. Fowler 2nd says no difference in usage. Merriam-Webster 2nd says for "amidst": "The 's' is an adverbial genitive ending; the 't' is excrescent, as in 'whilst'."

: : : Onions 1934 Shorter OED: Whilst, adv., conj. (prep.) late ME. [f. Whiles + t as in 'amongst', 'amidst'.] 1.a.In advb phr. 'the w.' (obs. or rare arch.), also as simple adv. (obs. exc. dial.): During that time, meanwhile. b.'The w.', conj. phr.: During the time that, while. Obs. or rare arch. late ME. 2.conj.=While conj. 1,b,c. late ME. 3.transf.=While conj. 2a,b,c 1548. 4.conj. Till, until. Obs. exc. dial. 1520.

: : 'Excrescent': Phonol. Of a sound in a word, growing out of the the action of the speech organs in forming neighboring sounds...

: : "'transf.' and 'fig.'=in transferred and figurative use."

: Aside from these archaisms, here's a clue to current usage, from MW2: "'amongst' "... often for euphony preferred to 'among' before a vowel; as, no one amongst us."

: Also, I sense a subtle difference in meaning between 'amid' vs 'amidst', and 'among' vs 'amongst'. MW2 gives "'amidst' In or into the midst or middle of; surrounded or encompassed by; among. "This fair tree amidst the garden."--Milton; Amidst the splendor [sic] and festivity of a court."--Macaulay. MW2 also gives for 'amongst' "now [used] most frequently in senses 3 and 5 (of 'among', i.e.: 3. Belonging in the same group with; making part of the number of; in the number or class of; [etc.]. 5. Done or shared by the generality of; commonly by or through the aggregate of; in dispersion through; [etc.]")

: Amid, amidst, among, and amongst, all seem to have rather a spatial quality to them, while (!) while and whilst have more of a temporal quality; I'm not sure how the distinctions made above amongst these four 'a' words might carry over to 'while' vs 'whilst'.

M-W 1942 Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms: "1 'Among' (or 'amongst'), 'amidst' (or 'amid') agree in denoting surrounded or encompassed by. 'Among', however, implies a mingling or intermixture with distinct or separable objects; as, "A certain man ... fell among thieves" (Luke x. 30); a minister should live among the people he serves. Hence it is regularly followed by a plural or a collective noun. 'Amidst' [n.b., preferred here to 'amid'] literally means in the midst or middle of, hence that which surrounds may or may not consist of distinct or separable objects; [etc.] When both 'among' and 'amidst' are applicable to the same objects, 'among' regards them in their individual, 'amidst' in their collective, aspect. Thus Milton describes the seraph Abdiel as "among the faithless, faithful only he," having in mind the other angels as individual rebels; but when he adds, "From amidst them forth he passed," he is thinking of the angels rather as a collective body. 2. Between, betwixt."

(Does anyone want to get started on 'betwixt'?)