Only this morning I rang an experienced editor at a distinguished (and nameless) newspaper. In the course of our very brief conversation, she asked “… and who is it from?”. For a nanosecond, I considered responding condescendingly, “do you mean, ‘whom is it from?’”. But on the theory that the editor is always right (take note, please), I restrained myself.
And then I read in The Economist, a journal with impeccable grammar, this disheartening letter: “My 4 year old corrected my wife today. My wife used ‘whom’ in a sentence (properly, mind you) and my daughter said ‘mama, sometimes you say a weird word, 'whom', when what you should be saying is 'who'. 'Whom' is not a real word."
I normally bristle at such brutal disregard of the subtleties of English usage, even from 4-year-olds. I have always believed that “whom” must have a high place in heaven, along with “shall”, and “it’s”. I planned a counterattack in the form of an elegy, something along the lines of, Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for whom.
However, I did a bit of homework before embarrassing myself, and discovered that this sickness has afflicted English authors forever and a day. The King James Bible renders a verse of Matthew’s Gospel as “He saith vnto them, But whom say ye that I am?” Ooops. Even Shakespeare goofed in The Tempest: “Young Ferdinand, — whom they suppose is drown’d”. With criminals like these at large, who is safe? The American writer James Thurber skewers the who/whom distinction in a hilarious (hilarious, that is, for grammar Nazis) parody of advice on writing.
However, predictions of the demise of whom are premature, as The Economist points out. Educated people’s “status at the top of the social heap is an incentive to treat the proper use of whom as a sign of intelligence”. In other words, whom is for snobs and snobbery still has legs. Sadly, I guess I am one of them.
This week, we have published four articles. Harley J. Sims protests against the bowdlerisation* of Santa Claus. Apparently smoking a pipe is dangerous for children. After examining proposals for same-sex marriage in Britain, Peter Smith is convinced that they will bring radical changes, despite avowals to the contrary by the government.
Edward Pentin reviews the trial of the Pope’s butler in the Vatican, and I have discussed the significance of this week’s Nobel Prize in Medicine.
* amended -- see comment below