"in what place," early 15c., from whereabout + adverbial genitive -s. The noun, "place where someone or something is," is recorded from 1795. Whereabout in this sense is from c. 1600.
Entries linking to whereabouts
suffix forming almost all Modern English plural forms of nouns, gradually extended in Middle English as -es from Old English -as, the nominative plural and accusative plural ending of certain "strong" masculine nouns (such as dæg "day," nominative/accusative plural dagas "days"). The commonest Germanic declension, traceable back to the original PIE inflection system, it is also the source of the Dutch -s plurals and (by rhotacism) Scandinavian -r plurals (such as Swedish dagar).
Much more uniform today than originally; Old English also had a numerous category of "weak" nouns that formed their plurals in -an, and other strong nouns that formed plurals with -u. Quirk and Wrenn, in their Old English grammar, estimate that 45 percent of the nouns a student will encounter will be masculine, nearly four-fifths of them with genitive singular -es and nominative/accusative plural in -as. Less than half, but still the largest chunk.
The triumphs of -'s possessives and -s plurals represent common patterns in language: using only a handful of suffixes to do many jobs (such as -ing), and the most common variant squeezing out the competition. To further muddy the waters, it's been extended in slang since 1936 to singulars (such as ducks,sweets,babes) as an affectionate or diminutive suffix.
Old English single-syllable collectives (sheep, folk) as well as weights, measures, and units of time did not use -s. The use of it in these cases began in Middle English, but the older custom is preserved in many traditional dialects (ten pound of butter; more than seven year ago; etc.).
Old English hwær, hwar "at what place," from Proto-Germanic adverb *hwar (source also of Old Saxon hwar, Old Norse hvar, Old Frisian hwer, Middle Dutch waer, Old High German hwar, German wo, Gothic hvar "where"), equivalent to Latin cur, from PIE root *kwo-, stem of relative and interrogative pronouns. Where it's at attested from 1903.
It has figured in a great many prepositional and adverbial compounds through the years; in addition to the ones listed in this dictionary (whereas, wherefore, whereabouts, etc.) English has or had whereagainst, wherefrom, wherehence, whereinsoever, whereinto, wheremid, whereout, whereover, whereso, wheresoever, wherethrough, whereto, whereunder, whereuntil.
updated on March 27, 2014