whence (wĕns, hwĕns)
1. From where; from what place: Whence came this traveler?
2. From what origin or source: Whence comes this splendid feast?
1. Out of which place; from or out of which.
2. By reason of which; from which: The dog was coal black from nose to tail, whence the name Shadow.
[Middle English whennes : whenne, whence (from Old English hwanon; see kwo- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) + -es, genitive sing. suff.; see -S3.]
Usage Note: The construction from whence has been criticized as redundant since the 1700s. It is true that whence incorporates the sense of from: a remote village, whence little news reached the wider world. But from whence has been used steadily by reputable writers since the 1300s, among them Shakespeare, John Milton, Jane Austen, and the translators of the King James Bible: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" (Psalms). Such a respectable precedent makes it difficult to label the construction, which is fairly rare and very formal in any case, as incorrect.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus