Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From whence

An American shepherd watches his sheep.  The photo was taken more than a century ago by a man who believed his subject was a descendant of one of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  It's hard to tell what matters when it comes to the preconceptions of the observer.  I want to know what you, the reader, may see here.  I'll tell you what I know afterwards.

From a dictionary:
The construction from whence has been criticized as redundant since the 18th century. It is true that whence incorporates the sense of from: a remote village, whence little news reached the wider world. But from whence has been used steadily by reputable writers since the 14th century, most notably in the King James Bible: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" (Psalms). Such a respectable precedent makes it difficult to label the construction as incorrect. Still, it may be observed that whence (like thence) is most often used nowadays to impart an archaic or highly formal tone to a passage, and that this effect is probably better realized if the archaic syntax of the word without - from - is preserved as well.

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