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 ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.