Monthly Archives: August 2013
For Whom the bell tolls
I wish to lament the passing of an old friend.
Whom do I mean? About whom am I speaking?
I think you know who.
Our old friend whom is disappearing. Our old friend whom we will surely miss.
It is to whom I dedicate this blog post.
Wait a minute, what?
I don’t know.
Whom is the object form of who, in the same way him is the object form of he and them is the object form of they.
We used to be more strict about this. When you talked to someone you didn’t know, you used who. Any time you needed to talk about someone you didn’t know, you used whom. For example:
- Who are you?
- About whom are we speaking?
Thing is, whom instead of who only sounds right when it comes after a preposition.
- Whom is that cup for?
As opposed to:
- For whom is that cup?
The first sentence sounds awkward. Don’t believe me? Try saying it to the barista at Starbucks.
However, the second sentence sounds stiff outside of classic literature and English class. Actually, it sounds stiff even there. No one talks like that anymore.
So, third time’s the charm:
- Who is that cup for?
There. That’s what you say to the barista.
It’s because the silly rule “thou shalt not end a sentence with a preposition” is disappearing. In fact, it was never a rule in the first place, just a myth born of a few crusty old linguists’ pet peeves. And, along with other so-called rules like “thou shalt not start a sentence with a conjunction”, I won’t miss it.
Using whom just doesn’t sound right unless it follows a preposition. So it becomes collateral damage when we take down the whole “end a sentence with a preposition” thing.
Now, I’m not saying we should start every sentence with a conjunction and end every sentence with a preposition, just to spite our old English teachers. The point is, English is a language with innate beauty and endless flexibility. To keep it flexible, we need to stretch it now and then.
Plus it’s an amalgamation of many languages, and it keeps evolving.
Still, I’m a language purist. English can’t stay beautiful if we stretch it all out of shape. I’ll still use whom now and then, just for variety.
Now you pick up the ball, and throw it to Whom…