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The latest Stack Exchange blog post contains the following section header:

In which we stop being dumb

I have never really understood what is going on in these "in which..." constructions at a grammatical level. Is it just an elision of something like "this is a section in which..."? Or, perhaps, is it an imitation of a famous quotation/title/etc. that has the same structure?

I feel like I've only seen this construction on the internet, which suggests to me that it is either a piece of internet lingo that I've somehow missed or a very new construction that hasn't caught up to me yet. I am a native speaker of American English, but am relatively ignorant of other varieties, so perhaps this is just a feature of BrE that I'm unaware of or something.


Note that I am not asking about constructions like:

In which of these two fields should I write my name?

These constructions are full sentences in which the preposition "in" has been hoisted to the beginning of the sentence, and I understand them perfectly well.

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    I take it you've never read A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) You should read these as an ellipsis of [A chapter or story or tale] in which... E.g., In which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle – Jim Apr 23 '14 at 4:39
  • So I assume you're asking for more info about the relative clause that uses "which", and not about the interrogative clause that uses "which". . . – F.E. Apr 23 '14 at 5:22
  • @F.E. Well, in particular, about this specific usage of the relative clause, in which the referent(?) of the clause isn't present. If this is really is just ellipsis of [A chapter or story or tale], as Jim states, that's basically the answer I'm looking for. – senshin Apr 23 '14 at 5:24
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    @Tucker You're welcome. One of the wikipedia pages has a little bit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… but not much info. (Internet as a grammar source is rather iffy anyway, as their info is a mishmash of different grammars, and usually have bad info in there.) If you have a copy of the 2002 CGEL by Huddleston and Pullum et al., then there's related info on page 1067-8. The older 1985 CGEL by Quirk et al. might have some info too, but it's hard to tell from their subject index. – F.E. Apr 23 '14 at 9:00
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    @F.E. Thank you for these resources. I'll buy a copy of 2002 CGEL (my wife is a Cambridge alum). – Tucker Apr 23 '14 at 9:24
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Is it just an elision of something like "this is a section in which..."?

When used as a title of a section or story, yes. Jim's comment notes A. A. Milne's frequent usage of this pattern in Winnie the Pooh: "In which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle."

This usage could be assumed to say:

[The chapter] in which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle.

More generically, "in which" simply refers to something that happened "in" another thing:

He kept attempting counterarguments -- in which he repeatedly committed the same fallacies.

The chapter/title usage actually fits this pattern if you are reading a full table of contents:

Chapter 3 — In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle.

Explicitly noting the chapter or section number is not necessary in modern writing (especially on the internet) and so you are left with just the heading starting with "in which".

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    Might add that the construction is self-consciously old-fashioned to create a humorous effect. – chaskes May 22 '14 at 1:44

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