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No definition or usage of whence relates to time, but to place. One would therefore expect it to be some form of where, not of when. What caused when to pertain to time, and whence to pertain to place?

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Wherefore does whence have when in it, indeed? –  Jeremy Aug 29 '11 at 17:56
    
Whence means "from where" or "from which" and there is no "when" inside of that word. –  Tarik Aug 29 '11 at 21:30
    
I agree with your first statement, and disagree with the second. –  Daniel Aug 29 '11 at 21:33
    
"When" means where in time. "Whence" means where in space. They are very closely related terms with very closely related meanings. –  David Schwartz Aug 30 '11 at 0:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Whennes is the later (c1300) genitive of Hwanone, which according to the Online Etymological Dictionary is a related form of hwaenne, or the ancestor to when.

Genitives indicate origin, place, and possession (or circumscripture) of a noun. According to the dictionary, the -ce is what indicates that this is a genitive of a root word.

So when was apparently the same or a closely related word, but whence is a holdover of an ancient genitive case which English doesn't have, any more, so the syntactical distinction that once clarified the relationship between when and whence has been lost.

Once upon a time, though, the relationship was clear: one was a standard form of when, and the other was its genitive, or in other words, when, but applied to space, with respect to origin.

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There is no relation between the origin of when and whence.

The origin of the words reported by the NOAD are the following.
Whence comes from the Middle English whennes, from earlier whenne (from Old English hwanon, of Germanic origin) + -s (later respelled -ce to denote the unvoiced sound).
When comes from the Old English hwanne, hwenne, of Germanic origin.

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So is dictionary.com mistaken? whence: c.1300, whennes, with adverbial genitive -s, from O.E. hwanone, related to hwænne (see when). –  Daniel Aug 29 '11 at 17:44
    
I don't know, but I can't help thinking there may be an etymological connection between whence and hence. And although the latter is primarily "spatial", it's also "logical" (hence=thus), and "temporal" (henceforth, etc.). –  FumbleFingers Aug 29 '11 at 17:47
    
Should probably add some kind of citation. –  Mark T Aug 29 '11 at 18:15

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