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The words "whinge" and "whine" have separate (albeit very similar) definitions in the OED, and they have distinct pronunciations. "Whinge" seems completely restricted to BritE; I have never heard it spoken in the US. I don't know if "whine" is ever used in BritE. In other words, I'm not clear on whether they are variant spellings, or really two distinct words. If they are distinct, then does anyone use both words? Would anyone ever say "whining and whinging?"

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    I learned a new word...whinge! I never heard of that here in the US. I've only heard and used "whine". – Kristina Lopez Dec 7 '15 at 15:09
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    I certainly use both, and they're not always completely interchangeable. For example, my cat has just been whining (making a high-pitched wailing sound) for me to open an internal door so she can go about her catty business of inspecting all rooms in the house. I wouldn't normally describe that as whinging (usually, insistently and somewhat feebly complaining about something you've got that you don't think is good enough). – FumbleFingers Dec 7 '15 at 15:15
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    @FumbleFingers. The subtle difference in usage is also apparent in the very common Australian expression 'whingeing pom', and the also very common Australian joke, "How do you tell if a plane is full of British immigrants? - The whining doesn't stop when the engines are turned off." Note that the expression 'whining pom' is not at all common (in my experience), but it is essential in the joke because it explains the link to the noise of the aircraft engines. In usage in Australia, 'Whinge' is about content essentially,while 'whine' is both content and tone. – John Mack Dec 7 '15 at 20:32
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    I like a good whinge about something that annoys me. It's like a mild form of a rant, and afterwards I'm ready to move on (unlike a rant which implies getting more fired up). A whine, when not a high-pitched mechanical droning, is a droning complaint that goes on and on. – Chris H Dec 7 '15 at 20:32
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    @PaulD.Waite But then he'd have to come back and change it when there's a King on the throne, would he not? – JAB Dec 8 '15 at 18:24

12 Answers 12

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Both terms are used in British English, though whine is the more common:

Grammarphobia tries to explain the difference in usage:

  • We don’t use it in the U.S. Why is it used in Britain?

  • In modern English, “whinge” and “whine” generally mean the same thing, though “whinge” (it rhymes with “hinge”) isn’t often heard in the United States except in the mouths of Anglophiles.

  • They come from two Old English words: “whine” from hwinan (to make a whizzing or humming sound, like an arrow in flight), and “whinge” from hwinsian (to make a sound like a dog whimpering). We probably get “whinny,” or horse talk, from the same root.

  • Both words are very old; “whine” dates from 1275 and “whinge” from 1150. Originally, “whine” referred merely to the sound. But “whinge” implied a wailing or crying: the sound was one of distress. Eventually, to “whine” also came to mean complain or express discontent.

  • Though Americans use only one word, “whine,” the British use both: “whining” covers a variety of meanings, including sounds made by people, animals, or inanimate objects, and “whingeing” (also spelled “whinging”) is more specifically for peevish or fretful complaining. The British sometimes use the terms together for emphasis: “Stop your whingeing and whining!”

According to the Grammarist, the term "whinge" entered in the US during the 1980s but it never really became popular:

  • To whinge is to complain, especially in a fretful and persistent way. The word is roughly synonymous with whine, grouse, and gripe, and it often connotes annoyance with the complaining person or a sense that the complaining is unreasonable.

  • The word is almost nonexistent in American and Canadian English. While we find hundreds of instances of whinge used in U.K., Irish, and Australian news publications over the last few months, North American publications contain only a few scattered examples. Meanwhile, our American spell check catches whinge, our American dictionaries list it as British, and an unscientific poll we conducted suggests that some Americans have no knowledge of the word.

  • Whinge is old. The OED lists examples from as far back as 1150. Whing was the preferred spelling from around the 17th century until only recently, and whinge now prevails by a large margin. According to an Ngram graphing the use of both spellings, this started around 1980.

  • In either form, the word was rare until the last few decades. It has grown more common since the 1980s and in this century is almost faddish. As Americans, we can’t explain the word’s sudden popularity, so we welcome any comments from readers outside North America.

  • to form present participles from verbs ending in –ge, we usually drop the e and add –ing. Whingeing is one of the few exceptions, though it’s not always spelled this way; in news publications that publish online, whinging appears about a third as often as whingeing.

Usage examples:

  • Croxteth Labour councillor Peter Mitchell says that, rather than whinge about cuts, the community, with the council, is simply making them work. [Independent]

  • Needless to say the battle between these two foes plays out against the backdrop of a seething, whinging populace. [Sydney Morning Herald]

  • [A]n injustice was done but no amount of crying or whingeing or appeals will change the outcome. [Irish Times]

  • A young thief who whinged that he could not go to prison because he is a ‘fussy eater’ today had his sentence slashed by appeal judges. [Daily Mail]

  • Attempting (unsuccessfully, for the British hate a whinger, and a Royal whinger even more) to garner sympathy, the Prince portrayed his father as a bully. [Daily Beast]

The etymology of both term comes from the Old English hwinsian, to whine (of dogs).

Whine etymology:

  • Old English hwinan "to whiz or whistle through the air" (only of arrows), also hwinsian "to whine" (of dogs), ultimately of imitative origin (cf. Old Norse hvina "to whiz," German wiehern "to neigh"). Meaning "to complain in a feeble way" is first recorded 1520s.

Whinge etymology:

  • "to complain peevishly," British, informal or dialectal, ultimately from the northern form of Old English hwinsian, from Proto-Germanic *khwinisojan (cf. Old High German winison, German winseln), from root of Old English hwinan "to whine" (see whine (v.)
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    I feel, but cannot cite, that "whine" implies an extended, possibly continuous general moaning, possibly ad hoc discontinuous moaning over several sessions, smeared out in time; repeated complaining about the same thing because you have not received satisfaction, whereas a "whinge" is more of a one-off complaint (albeit possibly extended to a diatribe)... Though having said that, one can "whinge on and on" about something :) – Marv Mills Dec 7 '15 at 15:20
  • For no reason that's obvious to me, people apparently prefer the sequence whinging and whining (412 hits in Google Books) over whining and whinging (172 hits). Coincidentally, GB gives very similar figures for the spelling whingeing - I don't know if there's anything in the background logic of GB's guestimates that automatically combines both spellings. – FumbleFingers Dec 7 '15 at 15:21
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    One thing I would say is that you'll almost never come across whining pom (6 hits in GB), whereas both spellings of the idiomatic standard whingeing pom score over 400 hits. I doubt that's specifically an Australian influence though, since the expression is perfectly common in BrE too, and if it didn't match our idiomatic preference we'd have just changed it. – FumbleFingers Dec 7 '15 at 15:24
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    This is great stuff, thank you! It sounds as if the gap in AmE left by the absence of "whinging" is filled by colloquialisms like "belly-aching" and "bitching". – Ernest Friedman-Hill Dec 7 '15 at 15:35
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    The fact that whinge gained popularity in the '80s is interesting, since in '71 The Oxford released the C.E.O.E.D., a micro-graphic reproduction of the full 10 volumes of the O.E.D. 1st ed., squished into two volumes, marking the first time it would've been practical to own at home. Whinge/Whine appear on the same page in the original O.E.D., so it's only natural that it'd spread in the U.K. where it was the only respectable dictionary. Meanwhile in the U.S.A. Merriam-Webster would've been more popular so fewer people there would've even seen whinge as a substitute, let alone as immediately. – Tonepoet Jul 31 '16 at 6:58
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"Whinge" tends to refer to a complaint, usually by a person.

"Whine" tends to refer to a high-pitched noise, which might be the way a dog complains about not being given the steak on your plate, but might also be a continuous high-pitched sound caused by poorly secured electromagnetic coils.

So a person could be whinging in a whining voice.

  • I agree with this description. A whinge can be in any tone of voice, in fact commonly might be in a low, grumbling voice. A whine is definitely high pitched. I would be more likely to describe my children as whining when they complain ("But Daaaaad..."), and my wife as whingeing. I think there is also something of a subtext in "whinge" - it could have been going on, or repeated at intervals, for some time, whereas "complain" does not necessarily convey this extra implication. – AdamV Dec 8 '15 at 0:19
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In Infinite Jest, Wallace posits that the difference between the terms is that use of "whinging" concedes that the underlying complaint is legitimate:

441; "east-Canadian idiom for vigorous high-pitched complaining, almost like whining except with a semantic tinge of legitimacy to the complaint"

So, if he is right, you could be doing one and not the other. And you could be "whinging and whining", but it would need to be about a mix of topics: some justified, some not.

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    In my (UK) experience, there is no difference in the legitimacy of the complaint between whinge and whine. – AndyT Dec 8 '15 at 12:33
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Yes, and it's not just a matter of people using either word depending on circumstances/precise meaning. They are frequently used together, in the phrase "whinge and whine".

This is similar to "moan and groan", "rant and rave" "tremble and quake" and countless other "x and synonym of x" phrases that are mostly repetition for emphasis.

Whinge and Whine nearly overtook tremble and quake for a bried period in British English in the 1990's (although interestingly, quake and tremble has more hits than tremble and quake, but whine and whinge has none.)

Ngram

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When I was a child, we were not allowed to whine. Children's voices are naturally high pitched due to the length of their vocal cords and they have no control over that whatsoever. However, whining doesn't merely refer to pitch so much as it does the combination of complaining with long drawn-out vowels that rise to an offensively high pitch and volume, all of it delivered in a distinctly nasal tone, much like police sirens, or cats caterwauling. This is a behaviour which can most certainly be controlled. It is quite grating, and at the first sign of a whine, we were sent to our room to calm down and come back when we were prepared to convey our displeasure in a normal tone. (Note that some people never grow out of it and speak with a whine at all times.) Whingeing on the other hand is merely the act of complaining ad nauseam and can be done in any tone, at any volume. So while whining and whingeing are not synonymous, they so very often go together, which leads to confusion as to which is which. Like twins, they are members of the same family (complaint). If they were music, whingeing would be the lyrics(the what, or content) and whining would be the tune(the how, or form). In fact, whining doesn't require words at all. Animals can whine, but they can't whinge.

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Two years after the above discussion, I read it today (11-11-2018) with reference to the #Me-too debate. Shobha De in her article "Dear men, there's no getting away from 'difficult' women"; she writes "I am not going to ruin your post Diwali high by whinging and whining about #MeTooIndia getting detailed and somewhat missing the point."

1

I would be more likely to describe somebody as a 'whiner' than a 'whinger' and I would attribute this to 'whine' being a more derogative description: everybody whinges from time to time, whereas it takes an especially irritating tone to attract being described as a 'whiner'.

1

I'm Canadian-born; but lived in the US for the last 53 years; and my mum was English. I don't recall ever hearing Whinging growing up, in either Canada or the US -- or even from my mum. But I became acquainted with the word from the Harry Potter books: he lived in the fictional Surrey suburb called "Little Whinging." Assuming that it had a meaning, I looked it up and found its use (for the dull, smug suburb) humorous. But upon reading HP Fan-fiction, I saw some writers misspell it as "Little Winging." Whereupon I knew they could not be British, since it is quite evidently a British term, but not an American one. I'm inclined to suspect that the term's sudden eruption into American usage owes more to the popularity of Harry Potter than any other cause.

  • Perhaps a link where whinging is used in the HP series would be nice. PS. No capital letter is needed, unless when it's a proper noun of course. (Some users are fussy over these things) – Mari-Lou A Dec 12 '15 at 7:17
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Native North American (OK, California) English speaker D. Margolies used whinge in stating that the Common Lisp compiler would "whinge" if certain syntax were not used.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCNhmcXF8nw&feature=youtu.be, ACL Level 2 Session 2, 10:35, published Oct. 7, 2013.

This may be the first documented North American use of whinge in reference to a programming language compiler's actions! Lisp is heavily used in artificial intelligence, so the fact that the compiler's actions were anthropomorphized is unsurprising.

I do not recall ever hearing that a language compiler or interpreter would "whine", perhaps because that connotes a repetitive action. However, I am sure users themselves have exclaimed "Stop whining" after causing their compiler to whinge several times in succession.

Speaking of which, my North American spell-checker is nice to "whined" but not "whinged". But maybe I'm whining.

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I grew up hearing "whinge" rather than "whine." This was in Brooklyn, NY, in the 1960s. (Born 1958.) It was commonly used by people of Irish/English descent in working class neighborhoods. It took me years to figure out that most Americans don't use the word, but my father's family did. His UK-born grandfather from Lancashire may have been the source of the word in our family.

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I also believed it was used in Irish neighborhoods in Brooklyn N.Y. I (D.O.B. 1950) lived in Sunset Park, with our Roscommon born material grandparents.

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    When you say "it" was used, do you mean "whinge", "whine", "whingeing and whining" or something else? – AndyT Sep 6 '16 at 10:37
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I was not familiar with whinging but looked it up and found this web site. Author, Maeve Binchy, if her book, A Week in Winter, has a character say, "We don't like to go whinging and whining," so the British usage does make a distinction between the two words.

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