Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: whence.

“Whence” (= from where; from which; from what source) is an especially formal word that some readers consider stilted. Rudolf Flesch prematurely called it “obsolete,” perhaps to reinforce his absolute recommendation to use “from where” instead. (See The ABC of Style 294 [1964].) But “from where” would hardly work in every context, and “whence” retains some vigor — e.g.: “If his method is to work at all, it must at least work in the sorts of economic cases whence it sprang.” True, the writer might have said “cases from which it sprang,” but surely not “cases from where it sprang.” “From whence” is technically redundant — because “whence” implies “from” — but the locution has appeared continually in the great writing from the 16th century to the 21st; Shakespeare, Dryden, and Dickens all used the phrase. And “from whence” is less stilted than “whence” alone, which requires a greater literary knowledge for it to be immediately understandable. E.g.: “They cast the body into the water from whence it could not be reclaimed.” Some people object to this usage, however well established; no one would object to “from which.” For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Excessive quotation is a vice of young and well-read writers.” G.L. Brook, Words in Everyday Life 128 (1981).
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