Friday, July 29, 2011

For Who the Bell Tolls

Did that title make you cringe? Get used to it. Our old friend from English grammar is not on life support. The plug has been pulled, and now we are just waiting to see how long the tired, old pronoun can breathe on its own.

Cause of death? Acute ignorance, aggravated by chronic regular-guy syndrome. There just aren't many of us around who know when to use it, or who, if we do, dare to use it in conversation.

My computer's dictionary says "its use has retreated steadily and is now largely restricted to formal contexts." I'll say. And even then, the who/whom conundrum catches writers with their grammatical pants down.

A writer at Reuters posted a column containing this: "But I have been working my sources to compile a speculative short list of whom might replace Geithner should that become necessary."

Admittedly, that was a tricky one, but my grammar instincts say he got it wrong. But I'm not 100 percent sure, and therein lies a glimpse of the whom-less future. If a stickler such as I (see? I didn't say "like me") can't be sure of the correct usage, where is the hope for the 99.9 percent of the English-speaking population who don't give a dangling participle about it?

To who it may concern: The bell tolls for we.


  1. Loss of case inflection (gender, too) has been underway in many Germanic languages for a long time. Danish is quite far along. Ah well, the subjunctive is passing too.

  2. I'll have to take your word for it about Danish (unless we're talking about the pastry!). I just wish the Germans would realize how helpful it is to have the verb somewhere in shouting distance of the subject.

  3. Hi Lucy,

    I've spent the last few minutes reading your blog. You definitely have a way with words, and frankly, I can't stop reading.

    You struck me as someone who would enjoy Stephen Fry's work. He also has a way with words, and revels in them. I went to Youtube and tried to find a clip of him talking about language. I found this, and you might find it interesting.

    I'd love to hear your opinions about it.


  4. I watched the clip and I loved it. Sure, I am guilty of the sort of pedantry Fry is blasting, but what a wonderful way to be dressed down. His use of language is terrific. As a P.G. Wodehouse fan, I'll always have a soft spot for Fry, who played the inimitable Jeeves, but I must reserve the right to be irritated when someone says "disinterested" when they mean "uninterested."