Wend and Wind

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A reader questions the use of wind (rhymes with kind) in the following notation on the website of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA):

After expediting your arrival and clearing you to the ramp, ATC has one last function. They will fill out a mandatory occurrence report (MOR), which will wind its way to a flight standards district office (FSDO) where it will be assigned to an inspector.

Says the reader,

I had always thought, and still believe, that the correct word is “wend,” not “wind,” although the former does imply a winding course. Please comment.

Both verbs, to wend and to wind, have been with us since Old English times:

wendan verb: to turn, direct.

windan verb: to plait, curl, twist

Wend has been used with different meanings of turn, such as “to translate/turn a text from one language to another,” but it has retained the connotation of the kind of turning involved in travel or the movement of a river.

In Old English, wind had additional meanings such as whirl, brandish, swing, fly, leap, etc. The word is frequently seen in lively descriptions of Old English battle scenes. Its most common use now is to convey the idea of twisting.

As we’re discussing wend and wind, I’ll mention a similar verb form, went.

Like wend and wind, the verb go existed in Old English. Its past tense was eode. The form went belonged to the verb wendan. Speakers tended to mix up the past of wend with the past of go. In time, eode was replaced by went as the simple past of go. The past of wend became wended. The original past participle form of go (gan) remains with us as gone.

In modern usage, wend is used chiefly in the sense of making one’s way, especially in an unhurried manner by an indirect route. It’s used literally and figuratively. Here are examples of recent usage:

This was a four-month trek that began in London and wended its way through Central Europe and on to the Middle East. 

We adjourned soon after the first ballet, and wended our way back to the restaurant, where supper was already awaiting us.

Just before the troops arrived, a federal judge blocked key components of SB 1070 from going into effect as scheduled, and the case seems sure to wend its way ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even if you don’t live near the sea, much of the run-off from your garden ends up down the drain, which wends its way down to the sea eventually.

Wind, with its past tense wound, is used in a similar way to describe a convoluted and slow course of movement, as in these examples:

Mules and donkeys strung together in groups of five wound their way down the mountain toward the river. 

A bill is currently winding its way through the U.S. Congress to give Europeans the right to legal redress.

The case eventually wound its way to the Supreme Court where Ginzburg lost on a 5-4 decision in 1966, ultimately serving eight months in prison.

I saw their gaunt figures wind down the valley, and watched them till they disappeared in the distance. 

The Awash River winds down from the mountains through deep gorges to the plain.

My answer to the reader’s question is that either wind or wend works in the context of a report making its slow way to the appropriate office.

I’d be hard-pressed to formulate a rule for when to use wend and when to use wind. I think that if I wished to emphasize the leisureliness and intentionality of the movement, I’d choose wend. To emphasize sinuousness and obstruction, I’d choose wind.

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3 thoughts on “Wend and Wind”

  1. I enjoy yiour stuff! Keep up the good work.

    I’m curious about the term “anyways” instead of the more standard “anyway.” How in the world did this happen and when did this idiotic word enter our language? I find it very, very childish but maybe there’s more to it than that.


  2. As a retired English and writing teacher (of 35 years), I have learned to trust my instincts in grammatical situations. I may not always remember toe exact rule for the questionable item, but I trust my senses to pick the correct form, spelling, usage, etc. These words “wend” and “wind” just don’t seem to be used correctly in the above explanation. It seems to me that to wend is to ramble, so if someone is wending her way through the trees, she would have wound her way through them by the time she was finished. Wended just seems really awkward. Thanks for listening…

  3. As a soft rule for general purposes … “Wending” more aptly describes the traveler while “winding describes the road or path traveled upon.

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