Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: while away; *wile away.

while away; *wile away. The phrase “while away” (= to spend [time] idly) dates from the early 17th century and remains current — e.g.: “Guitarist Martin Barre doesn’t while away his time listening to old Jethro Tull albums.” Gene Stout, “Guitarist Barre Goes Beyond Jethro Tull,” Chicago Trib., 22 Nov. 1996, at 37. *”Wile away,” a synonymous phrase dating from about 1800, began as a corrupt form but is included in modern dictionaries such as Webster’s 11th Collegiate and American Heritage without any cautionary note. Most commonly, of course, “wile” is a noun meaning “a stratagem intended to deceive” or “trickery”; it may also function as a verb in the corresponding sense “to lure or entice.” However old the mistaken form *”wile away” is — and never mind that Charles Dickens used it — it is still inferior to “while away.” E.g.: “Before Kim Peek saw Rain Man, the 1988 award-winning movie loosely based on his life, he stayed home and wiled [read ‘whiled’] away the time working and reading books.” Rhonda Smith, “Into the World,” Austin Am.-Statesman, 28 Apr. 1994, at D1. Language-Change Index — *”wile away” for “while away”: Stage 2. *Invariably inferior form. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Taking a word from a list of synonyms without having had any experience of its use in context is dangerous. We will do better to notice words and phrases in our reading, compare them in different settings, and perhaps try them out in conversation before we use them in serious writing.” John E. Jordan, Using Rhetoric 25 (1965).
Scroll to Top