Take a look at these two cartoon strips.
Notice that though these two strips were drawn by the same artist in the same week, we see both words ‘whine’ and ‘whinge’ being used synonymously, by the same character Bucky the cat.
Growing up in Sri Lanka, I had never heard the word whinge nor did I hear it even after I came to the US. None of the books I read in the English language ever used the word. My first encounter with it was in the 1990s on a visit to New Zealand where I found that the people there used it almost exclusively instead of the word whine. This was the case even among my relatives and friends who had used whine when growing up in Sri Lanka but had switched to whinge after moving to NZ. It was only later that I occasionally heard it being used in the US as well.
I became curious as to why there were two words with identical meanings that differed by just a single letter that changed the pronunciation considerably, with whine rhyming with wine while whinge rhymes with hinge. As with all such word usage issues, the explanation is not that simple and there is an interesting history. It is not that there was one word that happened to develop a minor variation in a different part of the world.
Whinge isn’t just a spelling variant of “whine.” “Whinge” and “whine” are actually entirely different words with separate histories. “Whine” traces to an Old English verb, “hwinan,” which means “to make a humming or whirring sound.” When “hwinan” became “whinen” in Middle English, it meant “to wail distressfully”; “whine” didn’t acquire its “complain” sense until the 16th century. “Whinge,” on the other hand, comes from a different Old English verb, “hwinsian,” which means “to wail or moan discontentedly.” “Whinge” retains that original sense today, though nowadays it puts less emphasis on the sound of the complaining and more on the discontentment behind the complaint.
That whinge is not standard yet in the US can be seen by the fact that Word software underlines it in red to suggest that it is a typo. And yet, the Get Fuzzy cartoons use both.
I am curious as to which word readers of this blog use, since they live all over the world.