Word Play

which/witch/wich“Which one works best for you”, is a phrase that is asking for information, wanting someone to specify a choice of things from a definite set, thus they need to make a determination.  Which can also be used to refer to something that was previously mentioned, such as a clause that was introduced to give us further information.  Which often represents a specified antecedent (a thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another).  Which is often used as an interrogative (forming, constituting, or used to develop a question) to select something out of a group.  When the word which is used as an interrogative, then it deals with what, of those mentioned or implied and when it is used as a relative pronoun it involves the one or ones that are being compared or the one or ones that are mentioned.  The words ‘that’ and ‘whatever’ are listed as synonyms of which.

The most common relative pronouns are who/whom, whoever/whomever, whose, that, and which.  In certain situations, the words ‘what, ‘when’ and ‘where’ can also function as being relative pronouns.  Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses, which are a type of dependent clause.  Relative clauses modify a word, phrase, or idea in the main clause.  The word, phrase, or idea modified is called the antecedent.  When being used as a relative pronoun, the word which must be used when the relative clause is non-restrictive or when it is the object of a preposition placed in front of the pronoun.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should use the word ‘that’ or ‘which’ in a sentence and many other people struggle with this battle of what is the proper word.  The controversy over whether to use ‘that’ or ‘which’ is a popular grammar question and there is a criteria that should be followed to get this right.  The key to understanding proper usage of these words is learning the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive relative clauses.  A restrictive relative clause contains essential information about the noun that comes before it.  Leaving out this type of clause, would affect the meaning of the sentence, it will result in either a sentence that contains a doubtful meaning or a sentence that makes no sense at all.  A nonrestrictive relative clause contains extra information that could be left out of the sentence without affecting the meaning or structure.  If a sentence doesn’t need the clause that the word in question is connecting, then use the word which.  The word which is used as a function word to introduce a nonrestrictive relative clause and to modify a noun in that clause and to refer together with that noun to a word or word group in a preceding clause or to an entire preceding clause or sentence or longer unit of discourse.


Which is also a UNIX command that finds the first instance of a specified executable in the PATH environment variable.  It is often important to know which end is up and directional arrows are used to display this information.   Sometimes it does not matter how a package is handled and then it could be done any which way.   Golfers often want to know which way the wind is blowing and explorers would like to know which way they should go if they come to a fork in the road.  I think that it should be easy to determine which side your bread is buttered on, however that which doesn’t kill you may not always make you stronger, which brings me to the point that I have gone on long enough about the word which.  However, I do have one more thing to say about this word, which is a quote by Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

A woman who is thought to have magic powers is often called a witch, especially an evil one, and witches are popularly depicted wearing a black cloak with a pointed hat and flying on a broomstick.  Also an ugly or unpleasant woman may often be called a witch. In 1629, hundreds of people were burned as witches in the Holy Roman Empire.  The Würzburg witch trial, took place during the Thirty Years War in Germany, and it was one of the biggest mass-trials and mass-executions seen in Europe, where 157 men, women and children in the city of Würzburg were burned at the stake.  The intensity of witch-hunting was particularly prominent in the ecclesiastical territories of Bavaria. Historians estimate that witch-hunt hysteria peaked between the 15th and 18th centuries and as a result 50,000 people were executed as witches in Europe.  Many of these victims were hanged or beheaded first, but their bodies were typically incinerated afterwards to protect against postmortem sorcery.  Other condemned witches were still alive when they faced the flames, and were left to endure an excruciating death by burning and inhalation of toxic fumes.

Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647) an Italian physicist and mathematician was first to notice that air pressure changes were related to weather changes, which enabled him to measure the water level as it rose and fell within a 35 foot tube experiment that he set up in his home.  Because water is relatively light in weight, Torricelli’s first barometer needed to be almost 35 feet high, and thus it literally protruded out of the roof of his home!  He was trying to be funny when he placed a dummy on top of this giant water column, so the public outside could plainly see this dummy moving up and down with the changes in the weather demonstrating air pressure changes.  This obviously caused great concern in his neighborhood.  Rumors started circulating within this gossipy Italian neighborhood, that Torricelli was up to some form of sorcery or witchcraft. Torricelli realized he needed to keep his atmospheric experiments more secretive, or run the risk of being arrested.  He needed to use a liquid that was heavier than water.  From his previous association and suggestions that he got from Galileo, he decided to use mercury, which meant that a shorter tube could be used.  Since mercury is about 14 times heavier than water, a tube only 32 inches was all that he needed, and the 35 foot tall dummy that protruded out of his roof was taken down.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) is one of the world’s most famous astronomers, who defended Copernicus’s sun-centered universe and discovered that planets move in ellipses, which led to Newton developing calculus.  The astronomer’s mother, Katharina was accused of being a witch, because she was thought to be a hideous woman with an evil tongue and she had a suspect background in these times of the witch craze.  Katharina was charged with being in the business of healing, where she boiled potions in a black pot.  Chitchat said that she met with old hags in a kitchen that was infested with cat smells and that outside in her garden a dead rat was located, and these were the main accusations against her.  The proceedings which led to a criminal trial lasted six years, during which time she was chained to the floor in prison.  Kepler took over his mother’s legal defense, putting his whole existence on hold, storing up his books, papers and instruments in boxes, moving his family to southern Germany and spending nearly a year trying to get his mother out of prison.  There was no evidence that she made a living from healing, as she simply mixed herbal drinks for herself and sometimes offered her help to others.  Kepler’s defense for his mother Katharina who was in her late 70s was a rhetorical masterpiece.  He was able to dismantle the inconsistencies in the prosecution case, and show that the “magical” illnesses for which they blamed his mother could be explained using medical knowledge and common sense and in the autumn of 1621, Katharina was finally set free.

A word that I have never used before is wich and this is defined as being a ‘salt works, or a salt pit’.  It is derived from Old English, and it is apparently a variant of the word wic, which is a dwelling place containing one or more houses, or a fortified town.  A wic was also a term applied to a town that was situated on a creek,  and it can mean a small bay, a recess, or being on a bay that is formed by the winding banks of a river.  A wicken has almost the same meaning as a hamlet and it could also mean someone who practices witchcraft.  Shakespeare wrote a play called Hamlet and that features witches.  WIC is also an acronym used for Women, Infants and Children and this is a nutrition program for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or who have recently been pregnant, and it encompasses infants and children that are under the age of five.  A wich is also a bundle of thread and it could be a shortened form of the word sandwich.  This ends my post on the homophones which, witch and wich.

I wrote this post for Linda G. Hill’s ‘Life in progress’ Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt which/witch/wich.  The idea is to start a post with the word “which” and try to fit the word “witch” in somewhere and to get the bonus points you need to use a word that ends in “wich”.

13 thoughts on “Word Play

  1. The choice, for me, between “that” and “which” became much easier when I realized there’s always a comma before “which” in the case when it’s a question between the two. If it feels like it doesn’t need a comma, then it’s “that.” 🙂

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      1. No you have a good trick there and I just read that:
        Use a comma before which when it introduces a nonrestrictive phrase.
        Don’t use a comma before which when it’s part of a prepositional phrase, such as “in which.”
        Don’t use a comma before which when it introduces an indirect question.

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