Yesterday in the New York Times, Stanley Fish got his peeve on with some representatives of my former employer, AT&T ("Return of the Old Grouch", 12/28/2008). Although the real problem seems to have been the difficulty of arranging for voice mail to be turned on, he focused on a linguistic irritant:
… finally, after pressing a number of zeros, I was rewarded with the voice of a live person who said, “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”
After some frustrating back-and-forth caused by the fact that AT&T's business systems are apparently not well set up to deal with people who are wealthy enough to have multiple residences, but not wealthy enough to keep the phone service going in all of them at all times, Prof. Fish returned to the annoyingly redundant preposition:
I should have quit when I was (somewhat) ahead, but I couldn’t resist returning to the greeting, with its double and ungrammatical “with.” I explained that the second “with” was superfluous, as the second “to” would be if the offending question had been, “to whom am I speaking to?”, or the second “about” if the question had been “about what are you worrying about?”
Somehow that didn’t make much of an impression on her. She said that her instructions were to greet callers in that way and that she would continue to do so. I replied that it was scandalous that a multi-billion-dollar world-wide telecommunication corporation would order its employees to commit an egregious (and comical) grammatical error millions of times a day.
She said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
I lost it. It has nothing to do with feelings, I ranted. It is a factual matter as to what is and is not syntactically correct.
Those of you who have ever worked in a service industry will not be surprised to learn that the rest of Prof. Fish's interaction with multiple levels of AT&T call-center personnel went badly, and in the end his voice mail was not turned on.
And those of you who share our attitude towards linguistic oddities ("We don't complain, we explain") may want to read about the redundant-preposition trend in a series of earlier LL posts: "Re-doubled prepositions", 5/19/2007, "A note of dignity or austerity" (5/3/2007), "Back to the future, redundant preposition department" (5/4/2007), "A phenomenon in which I'm starting to believe in" (5/14/2007), "Could preposition doubling be headed our way?" (5/15/2007).
[By the way, I doubt that AT&T actually requires its operators to ask “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?” My guess would be that that some call center may recommend "With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?", and an individual employee, puzzled by having to deal with the obsolete morpheme whom -- and perhaps affected by the other forces contributing to the redundant-preposition phenomenon -- added the extra "with". But I might well be wrong -- if anyone knows the facts of this case, please tell us in the comments. ]