So folks, is it “while away the time” or “wile away the time”?
I had to look it up, and when I did I was surprised to find that although both are used, the more proper spelling is “while” (even though in the title of this post I used the other way of writing it, in order to get both spellings in):
The OED has instances of while away going back to the early 18th century. The phrase employs a now archaic sense of while—namely, to fill up the time…[B]ecause we’re not used to seeing while used as a verb, it’s easy to assume that wile away is the correct phrase.
It sure is. In fact, I always have. Instead:
But wile is mainly a noun—meaning (1) trickery, cunning; (2) a disarming or seductive manner; (3) or a trick intended to deceive—and it’s occasionally used as a verb meaning to influence by wile. None of these definitions has anything to do with idly passing time, so wile away doesn’t make logical sense.
So now I know.
And now you know.