Tangled web of the month

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Reader KP sent in this gem, apparently from an internal office memo:

In order to accommodate the data merge, the Excel workbooks are locked down in various ways and utilize macros to keep the data in a consistent format. This creates rigidness in the workbooks and has made them difficult with which to work.


  1. SDA said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    Similarly, from a staff seating map at my own office:

    "For whom are you looking?"

  2. Jonathon Owen said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

    That has got to be the worst example of avoiding a stranded preposition that I've ever seen.

  3. Jim said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

    Talk about twisting sense to preserve sensibility.

  4. Svafa said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

    Aw, they missed a fine opportunity in "locked down"…

  5. S Bosko said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    Would have been so simple to avoid our mockery.

    Use "to edit" or "to modify" instead of "with which to work."

  6. Gene Callahan said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

    @SDA: Your example strikes me as completely clear. Whatever is wrong with it? Who would have trouble understanding it?

    Simply because we don't *always* have to avoid sentence-ending prepositions does not mean that we must *never* avoid them!

  7. Ray Girvan said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

    And also register. While perfectly understandable, "For whom are you looking?" is monstrously formal for such a mundane everyday purpose as a staff seating map.

  8. Toma said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    Aye. People would not likely say it that way in verbal conversation. But even formal writing does not need to be stiff and awkward.

  9. Shmuel said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

    "This creates rigidness in the workbooks and has made them difficult with which to work."
    Is this English? It might be poppycock, but it can hardly be "Prescriptivist poppycock" if it's not a grammatical sentence.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

    "Difficult things with which to work" may be lurking here somewhere.

  11. Dw said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 4:02 pm


    "For whom are you looking?" is overformal but still grammatical.

    "This … has made them difficult with which to work" is ungrammatical (at least in my internal grammar).

  12. Mr Punch said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

    Also, "rigidness."

  13. Alex Blaze said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 7:50 pm

    "difficult with which to work" is my expression of the day. Is this a microsoft word thing?

    I use Excel a lot, though, for prettification of tables and stat work and dataset conversion for other statistical packages, but I can't figure out exactly what's going on in this paragraph. Maybe it's a context thing, but what exactly is workbook rigidness?

  14. Alex Blaze said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

    @dw: I agree. I kept on looking at it and thinking it was an incorrectly-done stranded preposition thing, but it really looks like someone was trying to follow all the "rules." But it isn't formal or awkward or convoluted, it's just wrong. (I'm a young American grad student, so ymmv.)

  15. Ø said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

    Maybe "rigidness" is a word, or maybe not.

    Once upon a time my teenage son complained about the word "aggressiveness", which he had heard on a TV ad. He said that the right word is "aggression". I told him that maybe there's room for both words–maybe there's a slight difference in meaning. I was very pleased with myself when I thought of adding that, while he may have thought he was being rigorous, he was really just being rigid.

  16. Chris Henrich said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

    @Shmuel: Prescriptivist poppycock can indeed be ungrammatical.

    Consider this (remembered, perhaps inaccurately) quotation:

    "Whom shall I say is calling?" he asked, for he had been to college and knew the importance of good grammar.

    (He knew it was important, but he didn't know what it was.)

  17. Ben Zimmer said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

    Re: "Whom shall I say is calling?", see my latest Word Routes column for the Visual Thesaurus, which in turn links to Arnold Zwicky's LL post, "Whom shall I say [ ___ is calling ]?"

  18. Jason said,

    February 15, 2013 @ 11:38 pm

    @Alex Blaze: They are trying to use Excel for the job Access is designed to do. Their data merge requires data structured in a particular set of formats to work. That means the worksheets have to be "locked down" with macros to ensure data entry is conformant. This makes the worksheets "rigid", in the sense that you can't just do what you want on them.

    Access has these wonderful innovations called "entry fields" that do this, but because they're using a spreadsheet app to implement a database, they are having trouble managing the whole spit and ceiling wax abomination.

    Excel: Designed for unstructured and semi-structured financial analysis.
    Access: Designed for structured record keeping.

  19. Rodger C said,

    February 16, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    Is ceiling wax something you use to wax your ceiling?

  20. Jason said,

    February 16, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

    @Roger C. Damn. I eggcorned myself.

  21. Alex Blaze said,

    February 17, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    @Jason: never worked with access. So ok then!

  22. Matt said,

    February 17, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

    I wouldn't assume that this sentence was written in earnest, though. If the opportunity to write a ridiculous sentence up with which apocryphal Winston Churchill would not put arose before me in a context like this (I am assuming that this is a fairly unimportant memo that will be forgotten immediately — it clearly isn't vital medical information or anything), I doubt I'd be strong enough to resist it. We all have to get through the day somehow.

  23. Nik Berry said,

    February 18, 2013 @ 8:05 am

    I just posted that wonderful quote on Facebook, and with seconds got a comment from an English teacher, no less: "Eliminating the passive voice in that passage would eliminate the awkward construction."

  24. Brian T said,

    February 18, 2013 @ 8:53 am

    I have groomed my partner to accept it as normal when (quoting Marilyn from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes") I say "Now, about what we were speaking." I just like saying it.

  25. Ellen K. said,

    February 18, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    Brian T, what does that even mean? Best I can tell, it needs either a 2nd "about" at the end, or else a question mark at the end to be a grammatical utterance. (And those would mean two different things.)

  26. Ellen K. said,

    February 18, 2013 @ 9:34 am

    Or I suppose there's also the semi-grammatical "Now, about about what we were talking".

  27. Pete said,

    February 19, 2013 @ 5:04 am

    @Ellen K: I think you'd have to say "Now, about that about which we were talking…"

  28. Chandra said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

    Prescriptivists are difficult people with whom to work.

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