Weather we like it or not

We are having an above averagely wet summer, which is actually preferable to the above averagely hot with extensive bushfires summer we had last year. Today was the first day back at work for some of us. I generally keep an eye on the rain radar website and tell my colleagues what’s likely to happen. (We are currently mostly working at our respective homes, spread across the metropolitan area.) Today was forecast for rain and a possible storm in the afternoon, so I informed my Sydney colleague of this. He thanked me and added “I was wondering weather …”

This reminded me of a little poem one of my grandmothers taught me when I was young:

Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot,
Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not,
We’ll whether the weather, whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

I distinctly remember her saying that “We’ll whether the weather” meant “We’ll ask questions about the weather”, though with most childhood memories, it’s possible that I’m misremembering. 

I had, at some stage, encountered the line as “We’ll weather the weather”; that is “We’ll withstand the weather”. Searching online now, I found 59,4000 results for “We’ll weather the weather” and 3,560 for “We’ll whether the weather” (with quotation marks for exact matches). The internet can’t find an original author or source, so there’s no definitive version. (Also, more sources have the first two lines in the opposite order than I have them, but I think it makes more sense to start with “cold … hot” (two definite alternatives) than “fine … not” (one definite alternative).)

Weather certainly makes more sense. Weather is well attested as a verb, while whether isn’t listed as a verb in, for example, Shakespeare might have written “Whether me no whethers” alongside “But me no buts”, but it turns out he didn’t write “But me no buts” either; Susana Centlivre did. Things get attributed to already-famous people (most of whom are men) more than to non-famous people (most of whom are women). The things I learn while researching blog posts. 

Weather and whether are both old English (indeed Old English) words, dating from before 900 and with cognates in other Germanic languages. Until comparatively recently, people pronounced them differently, with /hw/ for whether (and which and while) and /w/ for weather (and witch and wile). But now, the wine-whine merger sees most English speakers pronouncing these the same, with Scotland, most of Ireland, some of New Zealand and the south-western USA retaining the distinction. See also Wales/whales (second and third paragraph) and cool whip (apparently a running joke on The Family Guy; another unauthorised video of lesser quality gives more examples).


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