I come across this quote of Emerson.

"Don't say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary."

I searched for a while, failed to find a sound explanation for the phrase "the while", What does it mean?

1 Answer 1


The phrase "the while" indicates the pending passage of an indefinite period of time. "The While" is a nebulous (fuzzy) term, not meant to be precisely interpreted in the sense of "starting here and ending here". Instead, the phrase suggests a vague notion of unfolding time.

The author could have written instead: "stands over you from now on" or "stands over you forever after", and kept the same meaning.

Poets and pundits tend to use this type of language, but you would not hear it in ordinary, everyday speech.

You will also hear the phrase "all the while" used in the same manner. For example, "He was all the while looking forward to seeing her", suggesting that his anticipation was ongoing, and that he will be continually looking forward to seeing her throughout his present state of mind / activity.

  • I think that it's not so complex and fuzzy: According to the Oxford Dictionary: 2 the while At the same time; meanwhile. lexico.com/definition/while
    – RubioRic
    Apr 16, 2020 at 15:50
  • Complex and "fuzzy" are two different things. "At the same time" and "meanwhile" are also not precise. They do not clear specify from a certain time until a certain time, so I used the term "fuzzy" to describe that imprecise notion of time. Same as "the while".
    – cssyphus
    Apr 16, 2020 at 16:05
  • @RubioRic If those two meanings, shouldn't the progressive aspect be used?
    – userA789
    Apr 16, 2020 at 17:00

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