Why I hate the Word “Whining”

I just read a review of a great writer and in it the reviewer complained about the author “whining” too much. I couldn’t believe they described what she’d written as whining, but it also made me furious. I’d thought that I only got mad when someone characterized my writing as “whining.” But it turns out it’s the word that I find so infuriating. The minute I realized that it became obvious why.

The reviewer is saying one of the following to the writer: Your problems are trivial and you should just shut up. You are being a baby. You complain too much.

When it was used to describe something I’d written I thought, “Well, I’m not dying of cancer. And I do complain a lot.” (It took years of therapy to learn how, and I’m very proud. Thank you, J.C.)

But the issues in this particular book were serious, and there isn’t anything about her writing that is even the least bit “whiney”. It was insane. My friend Chris pointed out that “whining” is used almost exclusively to describe the complaints of women. You almost never hear someone describe a man as whining. In any case, it’s a belittling, dismissive word.

Reviewers can say whatever they want, of course. Everyone is entitled to their opinion! Someone is going to come along, read this post, and think: “Oh quit whining.”

A screenshot from a short video I took of a dress rehearsal for a concert of Eric Whitacre’s music. This was at Carnegie Hall. It looks like he’s saying, “Hallelujah!”

Eric Whitacre, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

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