To whom should I rant?

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense as though of hemlock I had drunk
(Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats)

Actually, it was more a sense of outrage mixed with that familiar nausea that rises within me almost uncontrollably when I read claptrap. Especially claptrap pertaining to relative pronouns. It is with “full-throated ease” (ibid.), although not Nightingale-like that I give voice to my objections.

This painting, The Scream by Edvard Munch, does not adequately convey my sense of anguish.

The reason for the rant can be found on a website that I find quite useful otherwise, although usually when not in need of reminders as to the true nature of nausea:  It is http://www.dictionary.com where you can find a so-called article on “whom” in its so-called the hot word section

This is the page which incurred my wrath some forty hours ago, when by the way, I could not see a single comment. It has now garnered 160. Sadly, some commenters actually swallowed everything in this article hook, line and sinker. A good number of respondents still think they ought to believe everything they read on the Internet, and preface their comments with things like, “I am not sure, but I always thought…” followed by essentially a correct grasp of the grammatical and functional use of “whom”.

By whom the article is written I do not know. Whoever did may wish to keep his or her identity secret, particularly after writing this nonsense. This article has been added to my arsenal of arguments in favour of the writing of dictionaries – and the decisions as to which words stay and which words go – being left up to lexicologists, and not the general public, the face of which seems to get messier which each passing day.

Oh, now I remember, (how ironic) I went to the dictionary in the first place to look up the definition of “overcome” and if that did not give me any bright ideas, then to look up that word and “conquer” in the thesaurus.

Now, look!  I have had to point out a basic point of grammar because of the decline in usage of this marvellously useful form of the relative pronoun: whom.

This is the reason given on the above-quoted website for decline in usage and the reason for possible ditching the word altogether:

In the colloquial world of email and texting, thinking about the correct usage of whom can just slow writers down.

Where, oh where, is a sound-proof, padded room when you need one? One should not have to think about something which should have been learned by the age of 11 or 12. Thinking may well slow you down, chappie, but hey, what’s the point of speeding if you’re going nowhere (and while you’re at it, please note the correct use of the apostrophe just in case you’re thinking of abusing it), otherwise I may just emerge from cyberspace and tan your butt!

My comment is by no means complete or exhaustive. Such was my pique, however, that I broke my own rule on the day in question, and posted to a public page in a state of extreme fatigue after working far too hard for far too long:

To whom it may concern:
“Whom” is the form of the relative pronoun “who”, when “who” has assumed the position of the direct object or indirect object in a sentence.
It has nothing to do with whether you know the identity of the person to whom you are referring!
e.g. Jane is the beautiful woman with whom I have had a loving relationship for over ten years.
e.g. Mr J Smith, to whom your letter was addressed, no longer works for this company.
e.g. The homemade cakes were not eaten by Jane, for whom they were intended.
I definitely do think the word “whom” is worth keeping. “Whom” is a word without which I cannot write intelligibly, whether or not I know who will read what I write.
Who vets these blog posts? That is the person (or committee) with whom I would like to communicate!

The peeps at Dictionary Dot Com must be forgiven of course, chiefly because today they featured one of my favourite writers of all time, Samuel Beckett.

My favourite comment, after revisiting this web page today, comes from someone whose name is longer than the comment itself:

McMuffinCakes4bout99centsOnlyatMcdonalds on October 25, 2012 at 9:56 pm
Mom, can we keep it!?

And now in the disjointed spirit of the rant, a Psalm from the 1928 Anglican Psalter, just because it has a “whom” in it. The little asterisks, by the way, are for the purpose of phraseology when it is sung:

Psalm 95. Venite, exultemus.

COME, let us sing unto the LORD; * let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; * and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
3 For the LORD is a great God; * and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are all the corners of the earth; * and the strength of the hills is his also.
5 The sea is his, and he made it; * and his hands prepared the dry land.
6 O come, let us worship and fall down, * and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
7 For he is the Lord our God; * and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
8 To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts * as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;
9 When your fathers tempted me, * proved me, and saw my works.
10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, * It is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath, * that they should not enter into my rest.

Allison

4 thoughts on “To whom should I rant?

Add yours

  1. Sorry to nit pick, but i notice an omitted capitalization on a personal pronoun – surely a sin equal to the omission of an “m” off the word “who”?

    Also – and here you may correct me – a dash in the context that you used it, was a substitute for brackets, hence a second dash was required in your sentence, which should have read: “This article has been added to my arsenal of arguments in favour of leaving the writing of dictionaries – and the decisions as to which words stay and which words go – being left up to lexicologists…”

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    1. Thank you, Shandy, for picking up the omission of my closing parenthetical dash. Now corrected, as is one other typographical error.
      As to capitalisation after the colon (“…this marvellously useful form of the relative pronoun: whom.”), usage and rules vary depending on whether you are British or American, and upon sentence structure. I believe I am justified in leaving this word in lower case here.
      Even if cogent arguments for capitalising this word are presented, I do not believe writing “whom” in lowercase here is a sin equal to what is being proposed in the dictionary.com article, which is to do away with “whom” altogether because it is “complicated”.
      I should also add that although a prescriptive grammatical argument exists for doing so, I am certainly not a proponent of reinstating the “m” on “who” in expressions such as “Who do you think you’re kidding?”, primarily because it follows the pattern of other common expressions (which have a different deep structure) such as “Who do you think I am?” and “Who do you think you are?”.

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  2. I do hope you feel considerably better now you have had that rant. Surely correct English usage has been consigned to the bin of “the wrinklies” (anyone over 30) – the modern “vibrant” English language seems to contain only about half the number words, of which one quarter begin with F, half are culled from American and West Indian English, leaving about one quarter of the original English English. The Victorians, or Edwardians even, might have some difficulty understanding today’s general language. Deep breathe and steady on: fu–in- awesom init 2 b yung thez daz? Rely awesom. schoolin’ is jus’ not lyk it usta be bak home.

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    1. I really do not mind if people want to text messages like that, or even, in most cases if people say “who” instead of whom. Language is changing all the time, and the phenomenon you describe is occurring in other languages too. What I do mind is a website which claims some degree of authority – in that it hosts a dictionary – giving “explanations” such as these and getting it so very wrong. Despite my wrinkles :), I too can be pretty “vibrant”. 😉 As to restricting one’s vocabulary, I find that doing so restricts one’s expression – one’s very being. That is a personal choice. I choose to expand mine without, I hope, being too pedantic.

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