The Brits have a way of talking about whining that we might want to import. The word is “whinge,” and a listener named Addeane recently asked us about it:
“Both ['whinge' and 'whine'] seem to mean to complain peevishly. But ‘whinge’ doesn’t seem to be used in the United States. I’ve seen it written in British sources but never heard it spoken. Can you help sort this out?”
We can, and we’ll do it without whinging or whining.
First of all, Addeane is right – it is largely a British/American distinction between “whinge” and “whine.”
“Whine” goes back to the Old English verb “hwinan” which meant to whiz or whistle in the air. By the 13th century, we have evidence of it referring to a low cry or perhaps a shrill sound. This is the kind of whining that an animal or engine might do.
By the 1500s “whine” becomes something a human can do, typically one who’s complaining about something. For example, someone might whine about having to clean the bathroom or they may whine about what’s being served for dinner.
The verb “whinge” goes back to the Old English word “hwinsian.” Though these two words share a root word, “whinge” has always meant “to complain” and nothing else, while “whine” includes more sounds and meanings.
Personally, we’re all for incorporating “whinge” into American English. There’s just something about it that seems more appropriate for certain instances of peevish complaining.
Are there other words from across the pond that you think would fit in well in the US?