Whether to wither and die, or whither and die?

Whether to wither and die, or whither and die?

By Donald Powers

“You must either change with these changes or you will whither and die. We are not going to whither and die.” As reported on the front page of Business Day, these were the words of Woolworths group CEO Ian Moir during his presentation of the group’s financial results on Thursday, 24 August 2017. One is inclined to agree with Moir: Woolworths is not going to whither and die. It may wither and die … but in that case, where is not so important.

It’s unclear whether Moir actually used the archaic word “whither” (meaning “where”) or whether it crept into the article through a sub-editor’s oversight. Either way, the word raises some amusing questions: Where do successful companies like Woolworths go to die? Or, if not to die, where do they go to wither away? Does it need to be a water-scarce place like Australia, or will the Western Cape do? Do they in fact need to go anywhere? Why not wither where they are?

The title of this article about the group’s disappointing results, “Woolworth pins hopes on ANC elective conference”, sounds an optimistic note. But one can’t help thinking that an apter title would have been “Whither to from here for Woolworths?”