The meaning and usage of the phrase

while away my old age


2 Answers 2


To "while away" a period of time is to pass it pleasantly and unremarkably. You might "while away an afternoon" reading, or "while away the summer" going for walks.


According to the SOED 'while' as a verb has the meaning to pass through a vacant time. I was surprised to see that usage recorded (as long ago as 1635) because I had always thought that in that context the word was 'wile'.

The SOED records that spelling in that context in 1796.

Given a choice, I think that 'while' as a verb is confusing, and would use 'wile' but anyone can choose whichever spelling they prefer.

  • That would have the problem of leaving your readers reaching for their dictionary. After all, that spelling seems more likely to evoke a never-used singular of "wiles" than the phrase "while away" that is very common.
    – SamBC
    Feb 2, 2019 at 1:21

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