“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
If you’ve always thought this line was uttered by a forlorn maiden looking for her love, you aren’t alone. And it’s a logical conclusion to draw, right? I mean, it has ‘where’ right there in the word.
Some of you, like me, may have had that mistaken assumption corrected years ago, and know that wherefore actually means ‘why?’ or ‘for what reason?’ Juliet is actually lamenting the fact that Romeo is a Montague, the sworn enemy of the Capulets—that age old rhetorical ‘why?!’ we utter when we feel we’ve been dealt a cruel hand.
Knowing all that, an obvious question presents itself: Wherefore doth wherefore mean why? And, as my husband asked recently, “Why do we say ‘the whys and the wherefores’ if both words mean the same thing?” If you know me, you’ll know I don’t like it when I don’t have the answer to a question, and so it probably doesn’t surprise you that I decided to do a little bit of investigating.
According to Merriam-Webster, there’s a very logical explanation:
Starting in the early 13th century, a number of new words were formed by combining where with a preposition. In such words, where had the meaning of “what” or “which,” giving the English language such adverbs as wherein (“in what”), whereon (“on what”), and wherefore (“for what”).
Wherefore has largely been dropped in favour of ‘why’, however it is still sometimes used as a noun, meaning ‘an explanation or statement giving a reason’—hence, the whys (questions) and the wherefores (answers).
And now I have the wherefore I hitherto sought! 😉
Before I go, for those who have been wondering about the real definition of Quomodocunquize, from the previous edition of Word Nerd Wednesday, the answer is:
C. To make money in any possible way.
Congratulations if you guessed correctly, and have a great week!