Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

A large number of humorous titles seem to be of the form "in which ...". For example, a quick Google search turns up: In which I form the suspicion that I am not Nature’s intended audience.

What's the origin of this form?

share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

In the 19th century, chapter titles in novels frequently started with "In which". Consider Uncle Tom's Cabin.

-1. In which the Reader is introduced to a Man of Humanity
-2. The Mother
...
-9. In which it appears that a Senator is but a Man
-10. In which Propriety gets into an Improper State of Mind

So three of the 18 chapters here begin with "in which". Other authors used this as well, including Henry Fielding, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and William Makepeace Thackeray. I have no idea who originated it.

share|improve this answer
2  
Almost all of the chapter titles in A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books begin with in which. –  Daniel Nov 28 '11 at 0:48
    
"In which ..." and "Wherein ..." are used in translations of Don Quixote, which was first published in 1605. –  Peter Shor Nov 28 '11 at 12:24

This looks like a title of a narration. The full form would be something like:

The story in which I form the suspicion that I am not Nature's intended audience.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 Or, more specifically, the chapter in which... –  Daniel Nov 28 '11 at 0:45

Ellipsis, "(grammar, rhetoric) omission of a grammatically required word or phrase that can be inferred", is the most likely explanation of how such titles became common. For example, if you do an ngrams lookup for in which and click on the 1500-1681 books link, and at that page click the second link, you'll see a title page dated 1673, with a 40-word title that is, in broad strokes, "TWO LETTERS: [etc.] In which most things of Note [are] handled." This illustrates the convention of mentioning a form (e.g. book, missive, chapter) and then briefly summarizing its contents with an "In which" clause. Chapter titles of form "In which x" are shorter versions of "This is a chapter in which x", formed from the latter by ellipsis.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.