The Order of Logogustation’s monthly Words, Wines, and Whatever tasting event was drawing to a close. One of our newest members, Arlene (you may recall her from my note on beg the question and ad hominem), was looking at the chairs around the room.

“Inventorying our assets?” I said.

“It’s more about something to wear,” she said. “My jacket. Its exact present whereabouts are unknown.”

“Magnificent,” I said. “You’ve managed to include three of the top collocations for whereabouts: unknown, present, and exact.”

“True,” she said. “People seldom say that whereabouts are known.”

“In fact,” I said, “if you Google ‘whereabouts are known’ you get the suggestion ‘whereabouts are unknown’. Interestingly, if you Google ‘whereabouts is known’ you get no suggestion and far fewer hits – about fifteen percent as many. The same is/are proportion holds for unknown, but with about ten times as many hits.”

“Well, why would anyone say whereabouts is?” Very brief pause. “I suspect I’m about to find out.”

I was smiling. “It’s not a plural.”

“Of course not,” she said, looking heavenward. “Why should I assume something is a plural just because it looks like one?”

“The s is a survival of the genitive from when it was used to form adverbs – besides, anyways, towards, and so on.”

She looked at me through the tops of her glasses. “Survival of the genitive. Sounds like linguistic Darwinism.”

“Except in language some words and phrases persist long after their environment has changed to one unsuited to them.”

“Well, I’m unsuited for the environment outside,” she said. “If I don’t find something to wear about now, I will lack the wherewithal to get home comfortably, no ifs, ands, or buts.” She continued moving through the chairs. I could see her begin to roll the word around in her mouth silently as she did so: where-a-bout-s. Then she stopped and turned again to me. “So I could actually say ‘Whereabouts is my jacket’?”

“Exactly,” I said. “That was its first use: as a long way of saying ‘where’ or a short way of saying ‘in what area’. Sort of like whatever versus what.”

“Which means,” she said, “I could also say ‘My jacket’s where is unknown.'”

“True, although since we generally no longer devoice the wh, there is risk of confusion.”

“Well, there we are,” she said. “I am confused about the exact present where of my wear.”

“Yes, the whereabouts of what you will wear about outside is unknown.”

Jess came up to us. “I don’t know about that,” she said.

I raised an eyebrow. “You’re disagreeing with my syntax?”

“Your semantics,” she said. “Its whereabouts may be unknown to you, but they are not – sorry, it is not – to me.” She held up a jacket.

“Oh!” said Arlene. “Whereabouts was it?”

“Hanging off a cupboard in the kitchen,” Jess said, “but wherefore I know not.”

8 responses to “whereabouts

  1. Hmm…Very engrossing! I have used ‘whereabouts’ with ‘are’!

    As an aside: What is your first preference when you read: Is it fiction or non-fiction. What kind of fiction/ non-fiction you prefer most?

    Have your reading preferences changed over the years, since your childhood days?

    The question which was haunting me for quite a good enough long : Why Sesquotic ( Institute) is “three times as good as semiotics” ( in your opinion)?

    The two questions might be too many, but, answer as you will and like!

    • I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, though I’ve been adding more fiction to the mix lately. Mainly I lean to non-fiction because I always want to know more things, and while fiction is good with perspectives on the human condition, I always feel as though I’m getting more usable facts from non-fiction (even if it’s not always so).

      The foundational pun of sesquiotics is on the semi in semiotics, which actually refers to signs, but is being punned on as referring to “half” (e.g., semitone, semi-annually, etc.). Sesqui means “one and a half”; it’s most often seen in sesquicentennial, which means “150th anniversary”. So if semi is “half”, and sesqui “one and a half”, then clearly the latter is three times as good as the former. 🙂 But the underlying point is that I aim to get more out of the signifying medium than people usually do.

  2. I remember my grandmother saying something like, ‘Can you check on the whereabouts of your brother?’ I don’t remember her ever using the word in a positive sense; it was always for something/one missing. And I grew up thinking that because my grandmother used whereabouts, wherever, whenever & whatever and we were from the South that they were colloquialisms (like ‘over yonder’ or whichaways) and avoided using them if possible.

  3. ‘Yonder’ is a handy word, since its use allows three degrees of proximity: here, there (in sight), and yonder (at a distance). These have been reduced to two in standard English, though in Britain ‘yon’ survives in northern dialects and in Scots.

    ‘O whaten-a mountain is yon,’ she said,
    Sae dreary wi’ frost and snae ?’
    ‘O yon is the mountain o’ Hell,’ he said,
    ‘Where you and I will gae.’

    • Gaelic has that three-way distinction, too (a possible influence on its persistence in Scots English). In Irish it’s seo, sin, siúd, if memory serves – siúd meaning “over there” can also be udaí.

      Meanwhile, French has ici and là-bas; plain refers not to location but to presence (versus absence).

  4. Pingback: nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding | Sesquiotica

  5. ” So if semi is “half”, and sesqui “one and a half”, then clearly the latter is three times as good as the former. But the underlying point is that I aim to get more out of the signifying medium than people usually do.”

    Very well. I did not realize it until you pointed it out for me 🙂 Very significant for the work you’re doing. [ A picture generally tells a thousand words…I do not know how many a sign does…but Sesquotics would tell 3-times of that!]

  6. @Tachybaptus, lovely quote from Demon Lover and I wouldn’t know it if not for Steeleye Span. Thanks for a smile.

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