“Conferrin’ with the flowers, consultin’ with the rain…”
As you spend the rest of your day trying to get The Wizard of Oz and Ray Bolger’s rendition of “If I Only Had a Brain” out of your head, I wanted to look at the difference between “while” and “wile.”
I see as many references to “wile away the hours” as I do “while away the hours,” so which is correct?
Technically, they both are. There are some subtleties with usage one should consider.
“Wile” is generally used as a noun, meaning “trickery” or “cunning” (sticking with important characters from my childhood, who could forget Wile E. Coyote?); “a disarming or seductive manner;” or “a trick intended to deceive.” It can also be used as a verb to mean “influence by wile.” In that context, wiling away the hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon could take on an entirely new meaning.
“To while away the hours” means to “pass time idly” or to “pass time, especially in some leisurely or pleasant manner.” For example, I plan on whiling away several hours this weekend on my front porch in a big, comfy chair, reading a book.
All of the references I consulted had the same recommendation – “while away the hours” is the preferred expression. “Wile” exists and can be used as a means of poetic license to convey a particular mood or theme. Wile E. Coyote wiles away his time trying to catch that blasted Road Runner, for example.
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.