Whither - wither

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Whither and wither form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.

These two near-homophones are indistinguishable in a southern English accent (see W - Wh). The context should make it hard to confuse them, but careless writers can spell them the wrong way.

  • The verb 'to wither' was first used of plants, and means 'to dry up', 'to shrivel away', 'to go towards death or die from lack of water'. It has often been extended to other forms of ageing in animals and humans, particularly in the direction of drying up, becoming wrinkled, etc.; it is applied to 'fading away', 'gently declining' and 'losing youthful vigour'.
  • The archaic wh- word whither means 'to what place', 'to where', 'in which direction'. It may be an interrogative, as in "Whither goest thou?" (~'where are you going?'); an adverb, as in "Wandering they knew not whither ([~to] where)" (Dickens Old Curiosity Shop, 1841, i. xii. 156, cited OED); or a relative pronoun, as in 'London, whither (~'to which', 'where') I am going tomorrow'. See also where - whence - whither.