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rebbel's avatar

What with "What with..."? [Question on English language].

Asked by rebbel (23543 points ) February 20th, 2013

In the following sentence there is the “What with…” that I have a question about: ”...the phone is a little uncomfortable to hold after extended use, what with those sharp corners pressing into your palms. ”
To me they sound as “could not be anything else” or “obviously”.
But how did ‘they’ come to this?
Is there anybody that can explain this little thing to me?
What is it with What with…?

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11 Answers

marinelife's avatar

In this usage, it means “on account of.”

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

The term is used to describe the reasons for a particular situation, especially a bad, difficult, or adversarial situation. “I hate my job, what with my miserable boss and staggering workload.”

I believe that “what with” is used more frequently in British England than in North American English.

Also, “what with” is informal English.

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Unbroken's avatar

Like the royal “we” or the “one must” often inadequate and confounding phraseology. Only demonstrates the limitations of language.

I read somewhere that men tend to use less pronouns. As a group the trend is to be more succinct stylistically. Usually with heavy editing I can create a strong piece functional and brief. Those lines are usually the first to go. “What with” a fondness towards detail nuance and words and less emphasis on editing I rely heavily on these clunkers.

Instead of restating a subject that remains stagnant throughout the paragraph “they” become fillers. The extras and stunt doubles of writing.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

I usually hear this when people are complaining about something they think is absurd and attempting to be funny. Think of it meaning “with the”, however the “What” implies that the whole thing is unbelievable to them that they have to deal with it. The usage is always informal, everyone saying it knows you should not write that or say it in serious conversation.

DominicX's avatar

It does seem to just mean “on account of” or “because of” or even “as a result of”.
It’s often in the form “what with…and all”. I agree also that it’s often used negatively or sarcastically, as in:

“The freeway is too crowded, what with (because of/on account of/as a result of) rush hour traffic and all.”

But it could be positive: “we’ll get it, what with my intelligence and your determination”.

flo's avatar

“Because of” sounds good to me.

zensky's avatar

On account of = what with.

those who think it is less used in North America/Informal – please supply proof.

It is usually sarcastic, but needn’t be. And I am not sure it is informal. I do know something about English, right? You know me, what with my degrees and experience and all.

gailcalled's avatar

I have used and heard used regularly, “What with one thing and another.” The meaning seems clear and straightforward and is standard usage.

zensky's avatar

Thank You @gailcalled to the rescue.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t see it as inherently sarcastic at all (although of course almost anything can be put to sarcastic use). I regard it as a familiar but highly idiomatic expression, meaning that its sense is not derived literally from its components. I would not attempt to explain it, but probably some student of language has done so.

I think it means something closer to “considering” or “in view of” than “on account of.”

• What with the storm that’s expected this weekend, I’m not sure we can go through with our plans.

• It’s harder for youngsters to find jobs these days, what with the recession and all.

• What with the recent scandal, your candidate is going to have an uphill battle.

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