Dear Word Detective: Here in Australia we "whinge" where Americans "whine." "Whinge" is a fabulous word and many Americans with whom I have had contact have latched onto it. My Macquarie dictionary doesn't note it as slang and its use is very widespread in the land up over (who said south was down, north was up anyway?). Is it a derivation of "whine" and where do both words come from? An American friend, encountering "whinge" for the first time, defined it as a "whining binge," which is very creative and I wish it were true but alas I fear it is not. -- Sara Clarke, Australia.
Nope, sorry, although "whining binge" has a nice ring to it. "Whinge" (which rhymes with "hinge") has always been common in the U.K. and Australia, but it seems to have hired itself a North American press agent recently. It's showing up more and more in U.S. media, and I've received a number of questions about "whinge" in just the last month. Cynic that I am, I suspect that the increased visibility of "whinge" may be due to the inveterate Anglophilia of certain upper strata of U.S. society. It is, for instance, now routine to hear well-off young people in New York City pretentiously refer to their "flat," meaning their apartment. Personally, I find that sort of play-acting vaguely pathetic, but your mileage may vary.
In any case, "whinge" is basically the same word as our good old-fashioned "whine," meaning "to complain peevishly." Both whinge" and "whine" are ultimately from the Germanic "hwinan," meaning "to whine." The "ge" ending of "whinge" is evidence of its origin as the Scots and Northern English form of "whine," much as "clenge" and "ringe" were at one time the Northern forms of "cleanse" and "rinse."
"Whinge" is, for a word newly trendy in America at least, remarkably old. It comes directly from the Old English word "hwinsian," and first appeared in its modern English spelling in the early 18th century.