Just stop complaining

I sometimes find it quite difficult to explain the difference between words that are almost synonymous, but not quite.  As a native speaker, sometimes you just feel the difference between words, and it’s a challenge to put that difference into words, especially in a way that will be meaningful to your listener, especially if they are a learner of the language.

Today I was discussing ‘whine’ and ‘whinge’ with an American*, who thought that these two words meant exactly the same thing (they both mean ‘complain’, but have slightly different meanings).  Even now I’m finding them challenging to describe.  In these cases, it’s always good to have a dictionary handy, and lucky there are plenty of them online**.  I found these definitions in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:


Brit. informal

verb (whingeing) complain persistently and peevishly.

noun an act of whingeing.

— DERIVATIVES whinger noun.

— ORIGIN Old English.


noun 1 a long, high-pitched complaining cry. 2 a long, high-pitched unpleasant sound. 3 a feeble or petulant complaint.

verb 1 give or make a whine. 2 complain in a feeble or petulant way.

— DERIVATIVES whiner noun whiny adjective.

— ORIGIN Old English, whistle through the air; related to WHINGE.

I couldn’t quite convey that they were just different forms of complaint, and they were annoying in different ways.

*It just goes to show that even native speakers of the same language interpret words in different ways.
**Sticklers for language usually have a favoured dictionary that they swear by, whether it be the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), Dictionary.com, or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  I think as long as you cite your sources, nobody can really complain (unless you frequently get your information from Urban Dictionary).

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