A headline in today’s Hollywood Reporter:
Wherefore art thou, ‘Juliet’? It’s at Uni.
The story is about a book set up at Universal. The headline is incredibly frustrating. Wherefore isn’t a fancy way of saying where. It’s a fancy way of saying why or therefore:
As longtime readers will know, I’m generally not Mr. Stickler when it comes to word usage. I’ve gotten several terms wrong over the years, including “begging the question.” I fully understand that words change meaning over time as languages grow and adapt. English is particularly nimble in this regard, and that’s a good thing. English is not Latin.
So why my beef with “wherefore?”
Wherefore isn’t a modern word in any sense. Its only use is in lame callbacks to the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. So every time it’s misused as a synonym for “where,” the writer reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the iconic scene.
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy: thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot, nor arm nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O be some other name!
She’s not asking where he is. She’s asking why this hot guy she’s in love with has to be Romeo, a Montague, member of the rival gang. If we were writing that line now, it would be something like:
O Romeo, Romeo, why must thou be Romeo?
But the where/wherefore mistake is so fundamentally entrenched that we now expect Juliet to be straining at the edge of the balcony, looking out in the night with hopes of seeing her true love. It sets up the idea that she knows he’s coming, that a rendezvous has been set. It changes the scene in fundamental ways.
I’m a realist: this fight will never be won. I’m certain I’ll go to my grave having just read a headline on the Mentalinet which makes the exact same mistake. I’m calling it out simply in hopes that some of my readers might join the fraternity of people who know that it’s wrong, and will bristle when they see it.