September 10, 2004

The coming death of whom: photo evidence

Rather clear evidence of the approaching death of the accusative form of the human-gender relative and interrogative pronoun who may be found in the following photograph (it was apparently snapped by some reactionary student at Cornell University during a Columbus Day demonstration and sent in to the right-wing paranoid organization, which offers prizes on its website for photographic or filmed evidence that commies are taking over American campuses):

Yes, seeing is believing. That's two occurrences of whom in subject function, right there on a single defaced American flag.

There is an error in the plural of thief, too, but that one is in the direction of regularizing the irregular (regular *thiefs for the irregular thieves). Using whom for who isn't regularization. It's a desperately insecure clutching after a form that people no longer know where to use or how to control. Whom is like some strange object — a Krummhorn, a unicycle, a wax cylinder recorder — found in grandpa's attic: people don't want to throw it out, but neither do they know what to do with it. So they keep it around, sticking an m on the end of who every now and then when it seems like an important occasion. Columbus Day, for example, or when trying to impress a grammarian or a maitre d'hotel (whom will be our waiter tonight?).

Kiss whom goodbye. It is rarely heard in conversation now, and just about never in clause-initial position. This word is nearly dead. It is close to being no more. It has all but ceased to be. If it wasn't Magic-Markered onto a defaced flag from time to time it would be pushing up the daisies. This is almost an ex-word.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at September 10, 2004 01:16 AM