Annals of whom(ever)

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Today's SMBC imagines the invention of an implantable grammar corrector, the whom-o-matic tooth:

This evokes a whole new universe of regrettable DWIMmitude, since whom has essentially been dead for a century, except when a note of dignity or austerity is desired.  And even this function seems recently to have been inherited by whomever, as Ben Yagoda has recently observed ("The Elements of Clunk", The Chronicle Review 1/2/2011):

Nos. 5 ["my girlfriend and myself are going"] and 6 ["with whomever among our friends can go"] are examples of "hypercorrection": errors that are induced by a combination of grammatical confusion and a desire to sound fancy, such as the chorine who refers to "a girl like I." Her equivalent today would say "a girl like myself." The enormous popularity of that last word stems in part from understandable uncertainty over whether "I" or "me" is correct. The same goes for "who" and "whom," about which almost nobody is completely confident.

But there is more going on here; stay with me. In No. 5, while "whoever" is correct (you would say "we'll go with he who can make it," not "with him who can make it"), the error is reasonable because most of the time prepositions like "with" take an object, like "whom." But people often use "whomever" even when the error is not reasonable. A Google search quickly yields a Facebook group called "Quazie's Hair Fan-club" (put up by college students, significantly), which has a discussion called "Whomever wants an office in this group."

Here's what's happening, as I see it. My students aren't unique but represent a portion of the millennial generation: at least moderately intelligent, reasonably well-educated young people. When they write in a formal setting—for a class assignment or for publication in a blog or a magazine—they almost always favor length over brevity, ornateness over simplicity, literalness over figuration. The reasons, I hypothesize, are a combination: the wandering-the-house-in-the-dark factor, hypercorrection brought on by chronic uncertainty, and the truth that once people start talking or writing, they like to do so as long as they can, even if the extra airtime comes from saying "myself" instead of "I."

Of course there's also the role of the critic, featured in a later SMBC panel:

(Note that Zach Weiner has cleverly depicted the frustrated peever as misunderstanding the grammatical issues involved — since the traditional who/whom distinction has no relevant connection to indirect objects.)

As for the specific example of whomever that Ben cites, I don't have very strong intuitions about it, so I consulted Norma Loquendi, via the medium of the Literature Online database. Norma suggests that Ben is mostly right about his recommendation for "with whoever wants to go" — but his argument for this position, based on the proposed example "with he/*him who can make it", is wrong with respect to traditional educated usage.

A search for "with he who" turns up just one relevant hit in Poetry (Chris Wallace-Crabbe, "Good Friday Seder at Separation Creek", 1993):

…dealings that a people had with He-who-is while quitting Egypt …

There are no relevant hits for "with he who" in Drama or in Prose.

In contrast, a search for "with him who" turns up 314 hits in Poetry, 116 in Drama, and 209 in Prose. I haven't checked all (or even most) of these for relevance, but many of them certainly are:

I, Beauty, dwell with Him who made green earth … (Thomas Aird, 1878)
.. find corruption, cheek to cheek With him who stinks since Friday … (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, 1858)
Nay, prithee Sweet, forbear these idle words, And be more serious with him who loves thee. (Anonymous, The Ghost, 1653)
Ah, but there is no equal ground whereon to compare us— Me a penniless scholar, with him who is famous and gentle. (William Dean Howells, Priscilla, 1882)
Belial shows his sense of this, when in the infernal council he rejects the idea of engaging in any conflict whatever, open or secret, with him who is Allseeing and Almighty … (Matthew Arnold, A French Critic on Milton, 1879)
.. and now they had left her for a time with him who was so soon to be her husband. (Mary Jane Holmes, The Homestead in the Hillside, 1856)

So Ben's argument for "with whoever" doesn't hold up very well empirically. On the other hand, a search for "with whoever" turns up 14 hits in Poetry, and 17 in Prose:

So is it with whoever journeys here (Samuel Alfred Beadle, "The Jaunt", 1912)
throw of your head bend of your gilt knees / the laugh exchanged with whoever took the picture (Adrienne Rich, "One Kind of Terror", 1986)
… every man joined battle, sword in hand, with whoever was nearest to him … (John Neal, Seventy-six, 1823)
My next request is, that father Oswald and this reverend father, with whoever else the gentlemen shall appoint, will send for Andrew and Margery Twyford, and examine them concerning the circumstances of my birth … (Clara Reeve, The Old English Baron, 1780)

In comparison, a search for "with whomever" yields just 5 entries in Poetry and 3 in Prose. And some of these are object relatives, where there's a different reason for a traditional whom-form:

… the wisdom of agreeing with whomever he meets … (A.R. Ammons, "Garbage", 1993)
… shouted loudly and forced us to share seats with whomever they shoved down beside us. (Richard Moore Rive, 1987)

While we're quibbling, my intuition FWIW is strongly against Ben's suggestion that we should talk about going to a "Yankee game" rather than a "Yankees game". To my mind, a "Yankee game" evokes a game played at one of the many levels of yankee-dom rather than a game played by the New York-based baseball team. But a news archive search suggests that this is a point about which native speakers disagree.



60 Comments

  1. Ben Yagoda said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    Fascinating–thank you, Mark. Just for the record, I didn't mean to say we SHOULD refer to "Yankee" (as opposed to "Yankees") game, just to point out that the singular construction used to be prevalent and the plural is now. For one more example, in the early 80s (I can't pinpoint the exact year), Steve Goodman wrote a song called "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request." As befitting the time, the reference was to "Cub Fan," not "Cubs Fan." Of course, the most popular rendition on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xBxZGQ1dJk) (mis)titles it, "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request."

  2. Michael said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    Even the single poetry hit (dealings that a people had with He-who-is while quitting Egypt ) doesn't count, for its hyphenated part has a fixed form (or rather a take off from I-am-who-I-am).

  3. J. Goard said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    Her equivalent today would say "a girl like myself." The enormous popularity of that last word stems in part from understandable uncertainty over whether "I" or "me" is correct.

    I don't buy this part at all. Non-reflexive "reflexive pronouns" are widespread, and seem to have been so for a long time. Surely lots of people are using "myself" in the cited context, who don't give a damn about prescriptive grammar and would never in a million years use "I".

    I tend to take an pragmatic view that basically says myself encodes lower accessibility than me. (See Mira Ariel, 1990, which came up in a recent post.) On this view, the reflexive is one especially common manifestation of this form (the -self form) because it's of lower frequency/less predictable in transitive constructions, as compared with a distinct second referent. (I see him, and I see it, a lot more than I see myself.) Obviously this is not true for each and every transitive verb, but it presumably holds true over a large chunk of the most frequent ones.

    The other common occurrences of the -self form seem to support this view. The one cited above certainly so. At the end of conjoined lists, too — note that the longer the list, the better the -self form sounds, and the worse the plain subject/object pronoun. Here as elsewhere, we seem to be misled both by a tradition of independent syntax, and by our traditional terminology.

    [(myl) There's certainly plenty of precedent for "like myself" in the work of people who are unlikely to be suffering from hypercorrection, e.g.

    43 What high immortals do in mirth
    44 Is life and death on Middle Earth;
    45 Their a-historic
    46 Antipathy forever gripes
    47 All ages and somatic types,
    48 The sophomoric

    49 Who face the future's darkest hints
    50 With giggles or with prairie squints
    51 As stout as Cortez,
    52 And those who like myself turn pale
    53 As we approach with ragged sail
    54 The fattening forties.
    (W.H. Auden, "A Reactionary Tract for the Times", Harvard Phi Beta Kappa address, 1946)

    And similarly for "X and myself", e.g. this passage in Auden's Letters from Iceland:

    "The Icelanders when they want to give you a special treat put brilliantine in their soup or else flavour it perniciously with almond. Hot almond is not a good taste. The only thing to do with these soups is to drown them in stewed rhubarb which they tend to give you at the same time. Maisie says that Icelandic cooking makes her think of a little boy who has got loose with Mother's medicine-chest. After dinner we were shown our rooms--- two rooms leading out of each other, very cosy and hospitable but with rather a shortage of beds. The four girls are sharing two small beds in the first room and in the second room are two beds which have been run together. Greenhalge naturally has one and Maisie and I are sharing the other. All the beds here are furnished with deckers, if you spell it like that, and as a decker can't be tucked in it is not ideal for covering two well-grown females such as Maisie and myself."

    This is not to say that myself is never over-used, or that the motivation is never hypercorrection or at least avoidance of I/me uncertainty.]

  4. MM said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    Like a number of translators, I have been getting spam emails from a company called WhiteSmoke, which is selling a new grammar checker. They had a three-question quiz on the site yesterday – can't find it now – with an answer containing 'whom'. The site does also have sentences like 'Whomever you elect will serve a four-year term'.

    http://www.whitesmoke.com/janestraus_6

    I assumed this was American, but I gather not.

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    I don't think that "with him who" and "with whoever/whomever" are comparable. In the first, the subjective "who" clearly marks the object "him" of "with" as the subject of the following relative clause. But without the personal pronoun, the whoever/whomever distinction helps us see of it's the subject or the object (as in Mark's last two examples).

    And is "whom" really "essentially dead"? Even as the object of a preposition? (This may be what the "indirect object" reference in the cartoon is about.)

  6. Ryan said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    You'd think a guy who would go through all the trouble of creating a device to automatically correct who/whom usage wouldn't use singular they, wouldn't you?

    [(myl) A good point. But we don't know what principles his device's "corrections" follow...]

  7. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    > you would say "we'll go with he who can make it," not "with him who can make it"

    I share Prof. Liberman's preference for "him" here; but I've noticed that John 8:7 is often misquoted with "let he who is without sin", suggesting that Prof. Yagoda is not alone in preferring "he".

  8. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 11:37 am

    Has whom really been essentially dead for a century? I guess my question is perhaps better stated as what is it for a certain usage to have fallen out of a language? For instance, I acquired the classical who/whom distinction as a child. I suppose it could have been in school, but I don't remember learning it, and I've never had any confusion about it. That said, I almost never use whom because it's so stigmatized. Is whom dead even for me, a native speaker with the distinction, because I regularly choose not to use it in everyday speech?

    [(myl) Maybe "dying" would be a better choice of words. Or "dead and gradually rotting away", if you prefer. I say this as someone who sometimes uses it.]

  9. Henning Makholm said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 11:45 am

    If it were a singular "they", then shouldn't it have been "whenever they mixes up"?

  10. KevinM said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 11:49 am

    Solution: Always use "whom." It's classier.
    I like Roy Blount's hooting term for this kind of misguided hypercorrection: "the undue whom."

  11. John Cowan said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 11:49 am

    I don't agree that He-Who-Is is a relevant hit, because it's a name. In Rider Haggard's novel, for example, the name She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and even its short form She, don't become *Her-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and *Her in non-subject contexts . The only doubtful case is Her who dieth not in Chapter 28, and that may not be the name at all but simply capitalization for respect. Per contra, phrases like of She, to She, from She, upon She are common.

    [(myl) Yes, I agree. On this construal, "with him who" beat "with he who" in LION 639 to 0 rather than 639 to 1. ]

  12. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

    I took "no relevant connection to indirect objects" as something of a dare. The best (and admittedly archaic) counterexample I googled up quickly was: "Whom gave he then? Himself, who was both God and man; that so participating of both natures, our mortality and God’s immortality, he might be a perfect mediator." This from a sermon on Ephesians 5:2 by Thomas Adams (1583-1652), later described by Southey as "the prose Shakespeare of Puritan theologians." You can find more hits for the string "to whom gave he," where "whom" as object of preposition is perhaps functionally but not structurally in the dative-equivalent position.

    "Whom" is in reasonably active use in my own idiolect, fwiw, although not at all times and in all registers (more in writing than in speech, probably, but certainly sometimes in speech). I expect it's a result of my formal schooling and/or exposure to lots of elevated-register and/or archaic prose, rather than just "natural" peer-group language acquisition, but that doesn't change the fact that it's now "naturally" part of my idiolect and I don't think calling it an archaism or affectation on my part would be accurate. Otoh, I don't think I'm necessarily going to correct my daughters if they use "who" where I would use "whom."

  13. Ellen K. said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    @Henning Makholm.

    "They" always takes the plural (s-less) form of the verb, whether the referent is singular or multiple.

  14. Arnold Zwicky said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    The phenomenon reported on here has been discussed several times in Language Log, in particular by me under the name ISOC; see here.

  15. Jan Freeman said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

    I always think that calling a usage "hypercorrection" or "trying to sound fancy" is, in the absence of any evidence, just lazy name-calling. How would I know why you use "my wife and myself" or pronounce "caramel" with two syllables or do whatever it is that irks those who don't do it? These accusations seem rooted in a different time (and place), where speech communities and social classes were much less fluid. How about we drop the mind-reading language from such discussions?

  16. Timothy Martin said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

    I too would like to know what you define "dead" to mean. I started paying attention to this a number of years ago – people do still use whom, correctly, but only in certain types of sentences. No native speaker untainted by prescriptivism would ever say "you kissed whom?!", but they will say things like "I do not know to whom I am going to give this cake." And the people I hear this from – not all, maybe, but most – are not doing this to be "correct" or because they practiced it in school. It seems they learned it and employ it intuitively.

    Whom may be dying, but "dead"?

    [(myl) People certainly write things like "I do not know to whom I am going to give this cake", but say them? With "do not know" and "to whom"? I don't think this happens very often, outside of the dialogue in True Grit. In more than 26 million words of conversational speech in the LDC collection, "I do not know to whom" does not occur even once. "I don't know who" occurs 256 times. These graphs from COCA and COHA illustrate the death throes of "to whom":

    And those numbers are way high compared to the LDC's conversational transcripts, where "to whom" occurs 10 times in 26,151,602 words (14,137 ten-minute conversations), for a rate of 0.38 per million words.

    (And of those 10, at least two are marginal uses at best, e.g. "and um he he also should be a person uh to whom i can look forward to when i need help", or "and possibly we are learning some lesson from to who to whom we should support and to to whom we should not". ]

  17. Yerushalmi said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    Interestingly enough, in my own usage (so far as I can tell) the Yankees are the only team for which I wouldn't use the plural when describing their game. I'd still say "Mets game", "Cowboys game", etc. Only the Yankees are different. I wonder why.

  18. Linda said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

    @Ran Ari-Gur

    re John 8:7. "He who is without sin" is the King James version rather than a misquote.

  19. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    "since whom has essentially been dead for a century"

    Your reference to COCA and COHA leads me to wonder if this conclusion is specific to AmE. Higher registers of conversational Indian English maintained the distinction at least until 10-15 years ago.

  20. GeorgeW said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

    Recently, I feel like I have been hearing more reflexives in simple subject and object positions in which there should not be confusion. An illusion?

    For those who do this regularly, I have wondered if there is predictability as they do not replace all subjective and objective pronouns with reflexives.

  21. BobH said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

    Yerushalmi: Interesting point. For me, I always say "Yankee fan" and "Yankee game". The plural actually sounds wrong to me. For some other teams I could go either way with a preference for the plural (eg Tigers, Mariners, Cardinals). For others I strongly prefer the plural (eg Braves, Twins, Reds, A's). I think the Yankees are the only team where I strongly prefer the singular. Maybe that's because I am a Yankee fan.

  22. Will said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

    @myl, interesting that those numbers from the COHA match up pretty well with the google n-grams for "whom" and "to whom", which are all from writing:

    http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=whom%2Cto+whom&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

    But it's also interesting to note a pretty heavy decline in "who":

    http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=who&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

    And while "whoever" has shown a similar decline, "whomever" has shown a sharp rise (albeit with low absolute frequency):

    http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=whoever%2Cwhomever&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

  23. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

    To this Southerner's ear as well, "a Yankee game" sounds like some sort of mischief that our brethren up north are up to (it's happened before).

    There is plenty of opportunity to correctly write "with he who" and "with him who" depending on whether nature of the following phrase. To reuse the original illustration, "we'll go with he who can make it" has "he who can make" as the object of "with", whereas "we'll go with him, who can make it" has "who can make it" as a clause describing "him".

    This question may have an easy answer: Rowling's villain, Voldemort, is known as He who must not be named. Given the proper-noun aspect of the nickname, can it be made objective case, as in "He feared him who must not be named"?

  24. John Lawler said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

    I would prefer not to say that whom is dead, or dying, but rather that it's been on intensive (and incompetent) life-support for generations, which has caused many unusual sequelae, like for instance this one.

  25. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

    @Linda: No. The KJV has "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her"; "let he who is without sin" is a misquotation. (Or perhaps it's a "quotation blend", blending versions that have "he who" with versions that have "let him who".)

  26. dw said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

    @Linda, @Ran Ari-Gur:

    The King James Version does, however, have the following notorious mistake:

    "Whom doe men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27)

  27. dw said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

    The decline of "whom" seems, if anything, to have been arrested in the late twentieth century, if Google n-grams are to be believed. "Of whom" is still more popular than "of who".

  28. Henning Makholm said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

    @Ellen K: Ah, so it is still grammatically plural even if semantically singular. Makes sense.

    Unrelated to the "they", does anyone say or write: "Whom will you give the cake to?"

  29. Linda said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

    @Ran Ari-Gur

    You're right, I was misreading small print, it didn't seem so small fifty years ago. I'd go with your idea of a blend. And the translations I normally use phrase it completely differently, in a footnote.

  30. Sili said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

    Unrelated to the "they", does anyone say or write: "Whom will you give the cake to?"

    I doubt many whom-users (who-musers?) would "end a sentence with a preposition".

    I might use it in fun, but I doubt I would produce it unconsciously. I'd be more likely to use "whom" when fronting the prepositional object, or using a full-on indirect object:

    "To whom did you give the cake?"
    "Whom did you give the cake?"

    or to Germanify in the manner of backwards sentences ran until the head reeled:

    "You gave the cake whom?"

  31. Claire said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    "Whom" basically doesn't exist in my spoken dialect (I'm 21). I know when to use it in writing (although even then I try to rephrase if possible), and I would use it when reading or quoting something, but it feels unnatural to me to use it for real. So I know that the question in Henning Makholm's post should either start with "to" or replace "whom" with "who", but I would only ever use only one of those alternatives myself. On the other hand, something like "To who?" is totally fine for me.

    In the Wheel of Time series, a legendary figure is referred to as "He Who Comes With the Dawn"…always "he". So there's a certain group of people "waiting for He Who Comes With the Dawn", and so on. As much as I enjoyed reading those books, that never stopped annoying me.

    As for "Whom doe men say that I am?", does anyone know when accusative became the default case in English? (Not that this would necessarily explain it…it's interesting anyway, though. But if it was grammatical at the time to say "Men say that I am him", as it is today, then I can see it…maybe.)

    Oh, and I also object to the notion that I "shouldn't" write "grey" just because I'm from the US. I find it a lot more aesthetically pleasing than "gray"…just like I find "aesthetic" more aesthetically pleasing than "esthetic" (which I suspect is the result of one of those "Americans are idiots"-type spelling simplifications, which must have come about because someone thought that we couldn't deal with difficult-looking words).

  32. dw said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    @Claire:

    As for "Whom doe men say that I am?", does anyone know when accusative became the default case in English? (Not that this would necessarily explain it…it's interesting anyway, though. But if it was grammatical at the time to say "Men say that I am him", as it is today, then I can see it…maybe.)

    No: it's just a mistake. "It is I, be not afraid" (Mark 6:50, KJV).

  33. Qov said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

    I don't think whom is completely dead. Instead of being the object case of who, it is now a substitute, to mark formal dialogue. That role has so usurped its role as a case marker that people are using it to replace subject who. Plus I think it still triggers automatically for some people immediately following a preposition, hence your "with whomever can go." If the preposition is somewhere else in the sentence, even if who[m] is its object, it doesn't trigger, it's too late.

    I would say "Who are you talking to?" but "Whom are you addressing?" maybe because "addressing" is in that higher social register, or maybe because otherwise there is case ambiguity, turning the sentence into "Who are you, addressing me like that?" But the social register thing counts for something. "Who did he shoot?" but "Whom did he invite?" If you say "Whom did he shoot?" I'm going to assume the shooting was done with a silver-handled pistol, in morning dress.

    I was trying to restrain myself from posting comments here anymore, because of a recent post objecting to comments from the uninformed masses; I gather we're just supposed to observe, but this post is about what the untrained people like me think of "whom," so I thought you might want to hear it.

  34. Pflaumbaum said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    The CGEL (p464) remarks that 'it would be a mistake to say… that whom is confined, or even largely confined, to formal style', giving examples like the Aussie slang-laden:

    These include the deros of the inner urban areas and most of the abos, most of whom haven't got a skerrick…

    I think the accusative is alive and well in that position, after a preposition, though most speakers prefer to use a gapped construction if possible. But another of the CGEL's 'informal' examples I for one would never say in speech:

    The next musician whom I got to know well…

  35. a George said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

    Nobody has noticed that the cartoon essentially provides a technological fix. However, for this to work (inside an 'M'olar, at that) it requires a time delay, because one does not know beforehand whether an M is superfluous or missing. However, such delays are already well-known: live television is transmitted via a delay so that any subversive utterances may be removed or the feed killed (technical malfunction, we apologize) before they are heard and seen by the unsuspecting general public.

  36. Nathan said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

    I will occasionally catch myself using whom after a fronted to, as in "To whom were you talking?" It always sounds silly, and it makes me start singing as Danny Kaye from The Court Jester. ("To whom do I hum, to whom?")

  37. Will said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

    I think the only time I ever use whom is with a fronted to: "To whom….". I don't use it with any other preposition or in any other context. And I don't front my prepositions very often, so I end up saying whom very rarely.

  38. John Lawler said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

    @a George –
    I was wondering myself how the chip-in-a-molar was going to physically "add or subtract" an /m/, which is made by the lips, at the other end of the mouth. And when you have to wait an indefinite number of clauses, as in, for example1) He didn't say who_ he wanted to keep trying to connect with.2) He didn't say who_ he wanted to keep trying to connect it.
    you've got a real engineering problem here.

  39. John Lawler said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

    (sorry, keep forgetting, not all html formatting works here)

  40. David Fried said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

    J.W. Brewster said: "I took "no relevant connection to indirect objects" as something of a dare. The best (and admittedly archaic) counterexample I googled up quickly was: "Whom gave he then? Himself, who was both God and man; that so participating of both natures, our mortality and God’s immortality, he might be a perfect mediator."

    Huh? "Whom," in "Whom gave he then?" is the direct object of "gave." "Whom did Jesus give? He gave Himself. . . " Or am I misunderstanding your point? Thanks for the quote, ,though. It's magnificent.

    And "whom" is not quite dead in my spoken idiolect either–every now and then I have to send to know for whom the bell tolls, after all. So many of the commenters agree on this point that I suppose most of us speak our own dialect–"LogSpeak," in which many archaisms are lovingly preserved.

  41. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

    I think David Fried is correct that in my haste I misparsed the 17th century Adams quote. Let me offer as a substitute a rather clunkier sounding find from a document dated 2003: "Whom did they give the job of writing it?"

  42. Clay Eals said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

    Not exactly on topic, but to answer Ben, the first commenter:

    Steve Goodman wrote "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" in spring 1981 and recorded it that summer with mandolinist as a single, the first release on his own label, Red Pajamas Records. Few copies of the single sold. He also performed it in the Wrigley Field grandstand, third-base side, that summer while dressed in a Cubs hat and jacket for local TV news reporter Bob Sirott.

    In 1983, a live version of the song appeared on Goodman's "Affordable Art" LP. The same year, for NBC Today, he performed it while dressed in a Cubs hat atop a roof overlooking the Wrigley left field and Bleacher Bums seating area. This version is widely circulated on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet.

    If anyone would like to know more about the song and Goodman's life and music, please visit my web site, http://www.clayeals.com, for information on my 2007 biography, "Steve Goodman: Facing the Music," published by ECW Press of Toronto. 'Nuff said!

  43. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 12:35 am

    @Mr. Fnortner: There is plenty of opportunity to correctly write "with he who" and "with him who" depending on whether nature of the following phrase. To reuse the original illustration, "we'll go with he who can make it" has "he who can make" as the object of "with", whereas "we'll go with him, who can make it" has "who can make it" as a clause describing "him".

    With he who is never correct in what MYL calls "traditional educated usage". See for example Garner's Modern American Usage, p. 664. It's searchable at Amazon—search for "forgiven we who lost faith". You can find examples of with he who at Google Books, though.

    Speaking of peeves, I thought there was a post suggesting that the "singular they" in the cartoon was part of the humor (but I can't find it now). The engineer's line contains other violations of some prescriptivists' rules: a sentence starting with "and" and a comma after "and". So yes, I think the cartoonist was packing lots of prescriptive errors into the prescriptivist's speech.

  44. Erik said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 3:50 am

    I'm hoping that this device takes off, because it's only a short distance between that and Star Trek's universal translator. As we saw in an earlier article, computers are obviously up to the task of translating visual material; imagine the benefits we will enjoy with advancements in voice recognition-based translation! (For the humour-impaired, I was joking of course. However, if someone ever does make a mechanical translator that actually works, sign me up!)

  45. J Lee said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    @eric My first thought was of a customizable model for gender or number agreement.

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned — on this forum or the comic's —
    the obvious reference to the Tucson gunman's delusions about the government controlling people through grammar.

  46. Darrell said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 10:34 am

    Re the rumors of whom's demise and its level of formality, the example Pflaumbaum plucked from the CGEL is actually pretty interesting:

    These include the deros of the inner urban areas and most of the abos, most of whom haven't got a skerrick…

    "Most of whom" and "many of whom" sound perfectly colloquial to my inward ear, but I think I'd flinch if I heard *"most of who" or *"many of who"; could this be a rare context in which an informal whom survives? (FWIW, I'm not Australian, and I have no idea what a skerrick is.)

  47. GeorgeW said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 11:03 am

    @Darrel: I (AmE speaker) have no clue what deros, abos and skerrick are. If these are human I would have no problem with 'most of whom.' However, if these are animals or inanimate things, I would say, 'most of which.'

  48. J Lee said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 11:19 am

    All prepositions require "whom" as far as I'm concerned, including "of."

    I would guess the decline in usage coincides with the omission of relatives entirely.

    [(myl) Your guess would be wrong. The COHA pattern for who:

    and for whom:

    As you can see, who has declined by only about 10 % since 1810, whereas whom has decreased by about 80%. The effects in the spoken language are more extreme -- in COHA's 2000 decade sample, there's 72,178 instances of who vs. 2,962 instances of whom, or a ratio of about 24 to 1. In the LDC's conversational speech collection, there are 36,249 instances of who vs. 166 instances of whom, for a ratio of 218 to 1. ]

    The relevant Wikipedia page includes this:

    "Let whomever is without sin cast the first stone.
    Whomever is in the objective because it is the object of Let."

    But I've always read that as a jussive.

  49. Jimbino said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

    Furthermore, "embeds" is a transitive verb that cannot be used without an object.

  50. mollymooly said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    Following up on J. Goard and Jan Freeman, "hyperurbanism" rather than "hypercorrection" might be a better term for "trying to sound fancy".

    My impression is that people are more likely to object to "yourself" for "you" than to "myself" for "I"/"me". It bespeaks the obsequious shop assistant, dontch'know. But in such analyses there are too many levels of mind-reading based on too little raw data.

  51. Jennifer said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    I'm curious about the quoted Facebook group's mistake:

    "But people often use "whomever" even when the error is not reasonable. A Google search quickly yields a Facebook group called "Quazie's Hair Fan-club" (put up by college students, significantly), which has a discussion called "Whomever wants an office in this group.""

    I wasn't able to find this group to check the qualifications of the poster, but this use of "whom(ever)" made sense to me. The students may have taken the dative-ish meaning of "whom" and used it in this case to mean "(to) whomever…" This could actually be less surprising from college students, who would be more likely to have studied a language with an explicit dative case.

    I can't help but wonder, then, if the use of "whom" in English might be maintained among multilingual speakers because of an analogous dative in another language. That might make an interesting research topic. Depending, of course, on one's definition of "interesting…"

  52. Philip said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    "Whom" might be dead–or at least dying–but I'll bet you'll find more than a few who/whom questions on the standardized tests we give to students.

  53. Timothy Martin said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

    @Dr. Liberman: Thanks for the reply, and the citation of actual data. I have a couple of points in reply…

    When faced with the data from the databases you queried, I can only say… I know what I heard! Like I said, I've been listening for this stuff for the past couple of years – I've got a good ear, and I know when someone is using whom correctly. Not that I expect you to just take my word for it, but I don't think it's that unreasonable to expect to hear a handful of "whoms" (yes, in speech) over a number of years. Keep in mind that several commenters have also said they still hear whom in speech.

    Regarding my specific example, "I do not know to whom I am going to give this cake", I had to make one up because I couldn't recall one that I actually heard. That said, in my head, the sentence was uttered with a type of slow, measured rhythm (typical of the way a certain friend of mine tends to talk), making the lack of a contraction, and the "whom", less out of place.

    As for un-fabricated examples, I agree strongly with Darrell's "many of whom" and "most of whom", above. Assuming I queried COHA correctly, usage of "many of whom" has actually been increasing since the early 1900's….

  54. chris said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

    @Darrel, GeorgeW: I'm not Australian but I believe "abo" is a shortened form of "aborigine", who are indeed people (specifically, the people who lived in Australia before its colonization by Europeans, or their descendants in any later time period up to and including the present). Can't help with the other two Aussie terms, though.

  55. iching said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

    I am an AuE speaker from Melbourne, Australia. As chris said abo is short for aborigine or aboriginal which seem to be used interchangeably, but are being replaced by indigenous Australian. Abo is considered very derogatory. dero is short for derelict and it means a homeless person, a vagrant (also derogatory). A skerrick is a very small amount of something.

  56. Xmun said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 1:51 am

    "Whom" is alive and kicking in my and my wife's speech (and I'm damned if I'm going to call it our idiolect): we are both English-born but long resident in New Zealand. And I'm pretty sure I've heard the word used by others here, especially by erstwhile Poms like us.

  57. army1987 said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 7:25 am

    In the 2005-2010 year range in the COCA I get 3668 hits for "[i*] who" and 6274 for "[i*] whom" (where [i*] means "any preposition"), and it appears to me that in nearly of the former "who" is an interrogative pronoun rather than a relative one (e.g. "disclosure of who has been killed", where the object of who is the whole clause "who has been killed", in which "who" is the subject).

  58. army1987 said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 7:26 am

    I meant "nearly all of the former"

  59. Geoff Nunberg said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 2:54 am

    I once asked Tom Wasow if he could come up with a sentence whose meaning was sensitive to the choice of who or whom. He offered "I wouldn't tell anyone stories about who/whom appeared in the New York Times."

  60. Aviatrix said,

    April 12, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    Tom's example is hilarious. I came up with this one:

    Whom did you wrong?

    It kinda proves whom isn't needed, because both the verb "to wrong" and the expression "do someone wrong" are outdated. I think a speaker without whom would be able to use stress to distinguish the two possible meanings of "Who did you wrong?"

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