Word Confusion: Whither vs Wither vs Writhe

Posted June 11, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

For some reason, I’m seeing these words confused rather frequently. Too frequently for the heroine in one novel who was withering every time her lover had sex with her! Gads, how bad must he have felt as she shriveled up beneath him! And how lousy he must he have been as a lover!

Then there’s the character in another storyline who simply wandered off (well, what else could I assume when the author was using “whither”??), but I think they were supposed to shrivel up instead. Oopsie…

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

If you found this post on “Whither vs. Wither vs. Writhe” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.

Return to top

Whither Wither Writhe
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: whither

“Path Curving Over West Hill” by Ken Grainger [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Whither thou goest, I shalt follow…

“Dead Plant in Pots” by vetcw3 [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The cold of winter causes plants to wither.

“Worms From Coffee Compost Pile” is Shanegenziuk’s own work [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Worms writhing in coffee grounds.

Part of Grammar:
Adverb; Relative Adverb Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: withers
Past tense or past participle: withered
Gerund or present participle: withering

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: writhes
Past tense or past participle: writhed
Gerund or present participle: writhing

[Archaic or literary] To what place, state, condition, position, degree

  • To what end, point, action, or the like?

To which (with reference to a place)

To where?

Relative Adverb:
[Archaic or literary] To which (with reference to a place)

  • To whatever place
  • Wherever
Verb, intransitive:
Shrivel up (plant, limb, skin)

Cease to flourish

Verb, transitive:
Cause harm or damage to

Mortify someone with a scornful look or manner

[Knot theory] The number of negative crossings subtracted from the number of positive crossings in a knot

Verb, intransitive:
To twist the body about, or squirm, as in pain, violent effort, etc.

To shrink mentally, as in acute discomfort

Verb, transitive:
To twist or bend out of shape or position

  • Distort
  • Contort

To twist (oneself, the body, etc.) about, as in pain.

Whither are we bound?

Then there’s the nursery rhyme:
“Goosey, goosey, gander,
Whither shall I wander”

The lake, whither we were conducted.

Relative Adverb:
The barbecue had been set up by the lake, whither Matthew and Sara were conducted.

We could drive whither we pleased.

Verb, intransitive:
The grass had withered to an unappealing brown.

The withered leaves lay on the ground.

The garden withered quickly as the cold set in.

There was a girl with a withered arm.

Our programs could wither away if they did not command local support.

Verb, transitive:
Acting is a business that can wither the hardiest ego.

She withered him with a glance.

“Writhe is a geometric quantity, meaning that while deforming a curve (or diagram) in such a way that does not change its topology, one may still change its writhe” (Knot Theory).

“The writhe of a minimal knot diagram is not a knot invariant, as exemplified by the Perko pair, which have differing writhes (Hoste et al. 1998”; Writhe).

Verb, intransitive:
She writhed in ecstasy in his bed.

She bit her lip, writhing in suppressed fury.

She writhed in embarrassment.

He writhed in agony on the ground.

Verb, transitive:
It was a nest of writhing snakes.

She was writhing her body with abandon on the dance floor.

Adverb: writhingly
Noun: writher
Adjective: nonwithering, overwithered, unwithered, unwithering, withered, withering
Adverb: witheringly
Noun: witheredness, witherer
History of the Word:
Old English hwider is from the Germanic base of which. Late Middle English and apparently a variant of weather, ultimately differentiated for certain senses. Old English wrīthan meaning make into coils, plait, fasten with a cord is of Germanic origin and related to wreathe.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

Return to top

Pinterest Photo Credits:

Withered Tree near Track to Fen Farm” by Ian Paterson [CC BY-SA 2.0] as a “Writhing Skink” by Ryanvanhuyssteen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] hied itself whither via Wikimedia Commons.