With whom he was speaking with

« previous post | next post »

Matt Bauer sent in a specimen of preposition doubling from a recent Chicago news story ("Man stabbed in head with screwdriver in Joliet", WGN/Chicago Tribune, 12/20/2009):

A Joliet man was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver by the husband of a woman with whom he was speaking with at a local bar, police said.

For background, see "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" (5/19/2007); "Could preposition doubling be headed our way?" (5/15/2007); "Re-doubled prepositions" (5/19/2007).

Complicating matters further, a Chicago Sun-Times article suggests that it was actually the husband rather than the wife who was involved in the bar conversation:

A 44-year-old man was allegedly stabbed in the head with a screwdriver by the husband of the woman he was dropping off home early Sunday morning, police said.

The victim told police he was at a Joliet bar and had a conversation with the husband of the woman. At that time, the victim said he didn't feel like they had any kind of problem.

However, when the victim dropped off the woman at the intersection of Second and Wilson avenues at 2:05 a.m., the victim said the offender attacked him for no apparent reason, said Police Chief Fred Hayes.

This is the sort of case where the anaphoric/paratactic approach (as practiced by Elmore Leonard and the Pirahã) is likely to be helpful in keeping straight who did what to whom when.


  1. language hat said,

    December 21, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    I'd guess this is an artifact of word processing; whoever was responsible for the final form of the story decided to change "with whom he was speaking" to "whom he was speaking with" (or vice versa) but forgot to delete the rejected variant. As a copyeditor, I can tell you this is extremely common.

    [(myl) Many if not most instances of preposition doubling are indeed probably word-processing errors. But some probably are not — especially those in spoken passages. And similar constructions have been around in English since the 8th century, when word processing programs were thin on the ground. There's extensive discussion of this question in four 2007 posts linked above, including a link to your own discussion of the "world in which we live in / in which we're livin'" case.]

  2. John Lawler said,

    December 21, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    Might the previous with a screwdriver in the clause count as additional priming for the third with before the comma?

  3. Amy Reynaldo said,

    December 21, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

    The original version of the article was less comprehensible. The with/with was there (in a sentence that cries out for "in the conservatory by Professor Plum"), but the third paragraph—

    A Joliet man was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver by the husband of a woman with whom he was speaking with at a local bar, police said.

    The 44-year-old man, who was not identified, sustained non-life threatening injuries, Joliet police said.

    The man was stabbed at about 2:05 a.m. early Sunday after he dropped off the woman near the intersection of Wilson and Second Avenues, police said. The man told police that the woman's husband stabbed him after he dropped the woman off, police said.

    —painted a picture I couldn't see. He dropped her off near an intersection and a little later the husband stabbed him? What was the husband doing at the street corner? Was the stabbing done through an open car window? The newer version explains that the victim was dropping the woman off at her home, so at least it's got that going for it.

    [(myl) The two stories were created by different media organizations, presumably independently. I agree that the Sun-Times version is more coherent, if less linguistically interesting.]

  4. Joe Fineman said,

    December 21, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

    Ogden Nash satirized this construction some years ago in a poem in which he had someone exclaim "Do you know to whom you are speaking to whom?". Unfortunately, it is hard to track down lines in Ogden Nash.

  5. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    December 21, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    @Joe F.:

    From "Traveler's Rest" (New Yorker, July 20, 1935):

    And you reach the desk and surrender your keys,
    And the clerk sneers "Thirteen dollars, please,
    Seven for meals and six for the room,
    Do you know to who you are speaking to whom?
    You can fry in Hell so long as you pay;
    Stop in again when you pass our way!"

  6. Graeme said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 8:38 am

    'dropping off home'? Why not just 'dropping home'?

    [(myl) If you look at pages retrieved for "dropping home", you'll see that hardly any of them have a meaning suitable for this context (in fact none of the first five pages of examples are even close). The most idiomatic alternative, I think, would be "dropping off at home". But maybe things are different in Australia…]

  7. Mr Punch said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 8:42 am

    I suspect that rather than word processing it's speech — the speaker simply lost track of the construction, and added a "with" in a place where it might have belonged. This is perhaps supported by the "whom," which suggests a slightly unnatural formality.

    BTW, does anyone these days ever say "the reason being" without adding an "is"?

  8. language hat said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 9:49 am

    But some probably are not — especially those in spoken passages.

    Oh, sure — this just seemed to me a likely example.

  9. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    Mr Punch asks a good question. Here are two recent examples that passed my ears:

    The reason I'm late is, is that the bus wasn't on time.
    The reason I told her was, was that she needed to know.

    Both were from Southern speakers. Is there some regional aspect?

  10. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    Dan L.: Those are examples of the Isis construction, discussed here many times (and touched on in Mark's most recent post). What Mr. Punch is talking about is something quite different, presumably clauses of the form: "The reason being the bus wasn't on time" (as opposed to "The reason being is the bus wasn't on time," or more simply "The reason is the bus wasn't on time").

  11. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    BZ: Thanks! I'm (obviously) a late arrival on the LL scene and am continually amazed at the depth and breadth of info here. All those years wandering in the wilderness!

  12. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    Dan: see recent LL posts about the "Isis" phenomenon. I don't think I've heard the "was was" phrase; who was the speaker? Actually I wouldn't have been surprised to hear ??"The reason I told her is, was that she needed to know."

    [(amz) All four combinations (and orders) of is and was occur in Isis examples, but in far from equal numbers: is is in huge numbers, then was is and was was, and then is was (attested, but very rare).]

  13. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    KJS: The speaker of both Isis specimens was an engineer colleague in his 60s from Tidewater Virginia. He used the construction routinely. (This is about 20 years ago now, while I was forced by the authorities to work outside linguistics.)

    I'd never noticed it before and wondered at the time whether it was idiolect or dialect. I just filed it away in my cabinet of linguistic curiosities until I saw the topic of doubling flash past here the other day.

  14. Faldone said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    In a flash of something or other I got to wondering if the phrase "with whom he was speaking to" ever occurred. I googled it and got 13 hits, seven of them legitimate from my point of view.

  15. Paul said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

    As Paul McCartney showed in "Live and Let Die," this is a common usage in the "world in which we live in."

  16. Joe Fineman said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

    @B. Zimmer: Aha! It's "Do you know to *who* you are speaking to whom?". Funnier.

  17. andrew c said,

    December 24, 2009 @ 1:41 am

    'and if this ever changing world in which we're living

    Yours is a mondegreen. That is of course unless you were being iromic; in which case I was in on the joke as well.

  18. Simon Cauchi said,

    December 28, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

    Just spotted in a passage said to be quoted from Alec Waugh:

    "there is no stronger deterrent that one has to one's enjoyment of an evening than the knowledge that one has to at the end of it to get to Golders Green".

    Cited from page 67 of Paula Byrne's Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (London, Harper Press, 2009)

RSS feed for comments on this post