OK, people. We’ve been seeing a widespread uptake of ‘whilst’ in the digital landscape as of late and we can’t stay quiet anymore. From Stay-in-Place orders to the mass exodus of brick-and-mortar shops, personal and business platform users alike are churning out content faster than the late, great Paul Walker and this content needs to be captioned.
Further, we appreciate that trends and movements can catch like wildfire online. For all of the ups and downs of social media, the recent example of the Black Lives Matter movement highlights just how quickly we can share crucially important content to activists worldwide. On the flip side, the witnessing of and willingness to jump on board the bad-grammar-and-punctuation train is not a movement we’re here for and we feel that it’s about time we speak up.
We understand our opinion about ‘whilst’ could be controversial but hear us out. Much like many other examples of variances in the English language according to country of origin (the United Kingdom versus America, for example), we expect that there will be some readers who are steadfastly dedicated to ‘whilst’. However, before we go into the semantics as to whether or not your country allows for the use of ‘whilst’ in modern day English, we want to highlight a few of the concerns we have with the willy-nilly sprinkling of ‘whilst’ on Instagram these days.
Don’t Whilst Us Major Concern #1: The 13th Century
We’re going to take a stab in the dark and guess that most of our readers are not etymologists. And that’s ok! If your strong suit lies elsewhere other than the English language, there are plenty of free resources out there (Google) that can lend a hand. The point is, the etymology (the study of the origin of words and how their meaning or usage has changed over time) of our beloved ‘whilst’ dates back to the early 13th century when it was established as a conjunction of ‘while’. Lost?
‘Whilst’ came into use in the English language sometime around 1201. The YEAR was TWELVE HUNDRED AND ONE. (Also brought into existence around this time were the first ever seeing eyeglasses; drinking coffee, however, wasn’t discovered for another 200 years.)
Please note: ‘whilst’ was brought into the world as a conjunction; better said, a word used to connect sentences or words surrounding the same idea. Here is an example of a more commonly used (and 21st century relevant) conjunction:
Although: Although it is a nice day outside, I don’t feel like going for a walk.
Whilst: Whilst it is a nice day outside, I don’t feel like going for a walk.
Both examples are correct English for speakers and writers in the UK, Australia, and take-your-pick Canada. American English has since eradicated the use of ‘whilst’ along with many other old English references including the ‘u’ commonly seen in ‘colour’ and ‘favourite’. Regardless of location, we might argue that the first example sounds more in line with most social media users in 2020. If the latter example sounds like your kind of brand messaging, by all means, carry on.
Don’t Whilst Us Major Concern #2: Using Proper English
As highlighted above, ‘whilst’, when used correctly, is still an allowable conjunction and adverb that can substitute the more modern day ‘while’ depending on your country of origin. An example?
Example using ‘while’ as a noun: It took me a while to write this blog.
Example using ‘whilst’ as a noun: There is no example because you can’t use ‘whilst’ as a noun.
Conclusion: Whilst can’t be used as a noun, verb or preposition. If that sounds more complicated than your social media posts allow, stick with ‘while’ every time and there will be no room for error.
Don’t Whilst Us Major Concern #3: Do you have a brand Tone of Voice?
We recognise the uniqueness of every one of our clients, brands, and readers, however, unless your brand is a theatre company churning out seasonable Shakespeare we might question whether the use of ‘whilst’ is really in line with your 21st century community. Hear us out:
Whilst Argument #1: You’re from England and have an established brand and online community who appreciate and require highly formalised language to best connect.
That’s great - you got the business ball rolling, built a community, and have carved out a Tone of Voice that best reflects your team, values, and brand and connects with your audience. If you know the proper use of ‘whilst’ as a conjunction or adverb and can slide it into a sentence, keep going.
If you’re less sure about how to use ‘whilst’ in the proper form, stick with ‘while’. There are many, many other grammar, punctuation, and word choices you can rely on to maintain consistently formal language.
Whilst Argument #2: You’re from the US.
Stop using ‘whilst’ immediately, even if you’re a Shakespearean theatre company. (Unless required by your company Editorial Guidelines. If this is the case, we need to talk.)
Whilst Argument #3: You’ve seen other brands, businesses, and bloggers use ‘whilst’ in their captions.
And? Going forward, we’re going to deep dive into a few well-known brands and businesses to explore their brand copy, Tone of Voice, and target market characteristics. When we come up with an example of a brand or business who *should actively be using whilst because it reflects their Voice, are using it accurately, and it appears to land with their audience* we’ll let you know. (Already we have a sneaking suspicion that there will be far fewer platforms out there who should be using ‘whilst’ than there are current violators.)
Whilst Argument #4: Whilst hasn’t yet been eradicated from Commonwealth forms of the English language.
This is true. And if you’re adamant about being allowed to use ‘whilst’ WHILE it is still permissible, we’ll leave you with this:
I'll ever serve his mind with my best will;
Whilst I have gold, I'll be his steward still.
William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene II*
How does that resonate with your audience?
*Steps down from soapbox*
The CCC Team
*We are Shakespeare enthusiasts so please do not give us “if it was good enough for the Baird.”