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Can someone give me an account of the word wherewithal? According to etymonline it is a combination of where and withal. But withal means "in addition." So how does wherewithal come to mean "having the means?"
Additionally, what is the name of the phenomenon of two words joining into one - where + withal?

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Hi Mark. Are you aware of the website etymonline? Please take a look there and let us know what is missing from their explanation. –  Matt Эллен Sep 27 '11 at 7:47
    
Thanks Matt Эллен. I am aware but didn't find anything because I originally spelled it with two "l"s. I'll refine my question. –  Mark Sep 27 '11 at 7:53
    
A search for misspelled wherewithall etymology also brings this up as the first result: etymonline.com/index.php?term=wherewithal –  Hugo Sep 27 '11 at 7:58
    
An interesting twist here wherewithal=wherewith+al but I cannot find resources to back this up. answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=142563 –  JoseK Sep 27 '11 at 12:57
    
@JoseK: Found the same page (see my answer). I thought the argument was backed up quite well. –  Callithumpian Sep 27 '11 at 13:19

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

According to "juggler-ga" at Google Answers (check it out, it's a good read), understanding wherewithal works better if it's parsed wherewith-al rather than where-withal

Using Chaucer quotes from the OED, juggler establishes wherewith as originally having an interregatory meaning of with what and explains that the practice of adding where to prepositions does not imply location. Moving on to some Shakespeare quotes, juggler shows how wherewith took the form of a conjunction meaning with which and then concludes:

Finally, and most importantly to this discussion, wherewith took the form of a noun meaning "that with which." OED Examples:

1611 Bible Ps. cxix. 42 So shall I have wherewith to answere him that reprocheth me.

In other words, "So shall I have that with which to answer him..."

1788 PRIESTLEY Lect. Hist. V. lviii. 460 They will have wherewith to purchase the produce of other countries.

In other words, "They will have that with which to purchase the produce..."

In this sense (a noun meaning "that with which"), "wherewith" is the equivalent of "wherewithal." And in fact the two were used interchangeably.

OED example:

1742 FIELDING J. Andrews IV. i, When your ladyship's livery was stript off, he had not wherewithal to buy a coat.

And this usage as a noun is the form that has come down to us meaning the necessary funds or resources.

As for the -al, apparently with, withal and withall were used interchangeably by the likes of Shakespeare and the KJB scribes.

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Sure the author gives examples, as resources to back up I meant all others point to where+withal and only this one says otherwise. –  JoseK Sep 27 '11 at 16:20
    
@JoseK: I see. If this argument is an outlier, I agree it would be good to find corroboration elsewhere. Still, pretty convincing. –  Callithumpian Sep 27 '11 at 22:29

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

wherewithal (adv.)
"means by which," 1530s, from where + withal. The noun is first recorded 1809.

And also:

withal
"in addition," late 14c., from M.E. with alle (c.1200), superseding O.E. mid ealle "wholly" (see with).

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Thanks for the input Hugo, but how does any of that answer either of my two questions? Further, I mentioned all of that in my original post. –  Mark Sep 27 '11 at 8:21
    
It answers at least some of the pre-edit questions that didn't yet reference etymonline: 1. If this is indeed a combination of three words, *where*, *with* and *all*, how do these types of combinations come about and what are they called? -> shows from where + withal, and dates of origin, and which English language. 2. If the above account is correct, why is *al* spelled with only one *l*? -> shows not directly from all but from withal with one l. –  Hugo Sep 27 '11 at 8:24
    
Correct, but your answer appeared after the edit, making it irrelevant. –  Mark Sep 27 '11 at 8:27
    
I think I answered before the question edit was made. I then edited my answer to add links to etymonline, and I think the question was edited at the same time, but I didn't see it until pressing save and re-loading the page :) –  Hugo Sep 27 '11 at 8:31
    
Fair enough. Too bad it won't let me undo my down-vote. –  Mark Sep 27 '11 at 8:32

‘Wherewithal’ itself doesn’t mean ‘having the means’. However, when preceded by the definite article it takes on the meaning of 'the means or resources (to do something)'. It can also be used without a following infinitive and when it is it can mean more specifically financial resources. Both uses are first recorded in 1809.

A word like ‘wherewithal’, which has more than one lexical stem, is called a compound.

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That still doesn't come close to answering: "How does wherewithal (from where + withal meaning 'in addition') come to mean 'the means or resources'?" –  Karl Knechtel Sep 27 '11 at 11:07
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Although the OED give the etymology as ‘where’ + ‘withal’, I think we might better be able to understand how it comes to mean (financial) resources by regarding it as a combination of the long established ‘wherewith’ (meaning 'with which') + ‘al’, ‘al’ being an earlier spelling of ‘all’. ‘The wherewithal’ is thus the means with which all things can be accomplished. –  Barrie England Sep 27 '11 at 14:34

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