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December 12th, 2007

Belgium as an adjective / when ever and where ever vs. whenever and wherever

by Barbara Wallraff

Loren Mannino, of Grosse Pointe, Mich., writes: “This is a complaint about the use of the word ‘Belgium’ as an adjective, instead of ‘Belgian.’ Restaurant menus almost universally refer to ‘Belgium waffles,’ and recently a writer for the Free Press described trying to reproduce her mother’s ‘Belgium chicken.’ I also have been exhorted to purchase ‘Belgium chocolate.’ It is driving my wife and me crazy. Please help!”

Dear Loren: It’s true that we eat French fries, not France fries. We enjoy the company of Irish setters and Afghan hounds, not Ireland setters and Afghanistan hounds. On the other hand, what about California wine, Canada geese and India ink? And china plates? China -- porcelain -- got that name because of where Europeans originally imported it from. Confusingly, one place can spawn both kinds of adjectives: “Canada goose” but “Canadian bacon,” “china plate” but “Chinese food.”

As for Belgium, you’re right that the usual adjectival form is “Belgian.” Those delicious sweets are properly “Belgian waffles” and “Belgian chocolate.” Professional copy editors all over the 
English-speaking world agree with you and me that far.

But when it comes to a family recipe, the only real experts are members of that family. I called Laura Varon Brown, of the Free Press, who wrote about “Belgium chicken,” to inquire. She told me: “That’s what my mom called it, and my dad’s family was from Belgium. Mom had it written down that way too.” Unfortunately, the original name for the dish is no help at all: In Belgium, it’s called Waterzooi.

James Vorndran, of Madison, Wis., writes: “Please write about the uses of ‘when ever’ or ‘whenever’ and ‘where ever’ or ‘wherever.’”

Dear James: If you want a simple rule, it’s this: Always write “whenever” and “wherever.” You’ll never be out-and-out wrong. The one-word version is informal anywhere you could have written just “when” or “where” instead, but it’s acceptable English.

If you want to make a distinction, though -- and I do, since the two-word forms also can be correct, and they allow different meanings to look different -- then write “when ever” or “where ever” in those spots where you could use the shorter word. In such cases, “ever” is an intensifier, making “when” or “where” more emphatic.

For instance, consider the line “When will they ever learn?” from Pete Seeger’s song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Of course, that fits the meter of the tune better than “When will they learn?” but it also expresses a stronger sentiment. “When ever will they learn?” is equally strong. That’s the kind of place to write “when ever” as two words.

Now, let’s contrast that with Metallica’s song title “Wherever I May Roam.” Here the word means not just “where” but “anywhere.” The “anytime” and “anywhere” meanings need the one-word versions: “whenever” and “wherever.”

Much the same goes, by the way, for “what ever” versus “whatever.” I feel a song by Oasis coming on: “I’m free to be whatever I whatever I choose” is how the song “Whatever” starts. That’s written properly, except for the repeated words.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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