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Saturday, May 06, 2017

The society to eliminate whomever

I've decided it's time to create my own hate group.

I 've decided it's time to create my own hate group. I've picked out a nice sinister-sounding name and I have my own ideology: to eradicate the word ‘whomever’ from the English language. And any other languages I came across on the way over.

'Whomever' is one of those words we just don't need. I defy anyone to come up with a grammatical sentence using whomever. Take this imaginative sentence from a famous writer:

Something in the guinea pig wouldn't have agreed with whomever was struck by it with the knuckle-duster inside.*

Now maybe this guy was using the writer's prerogative of using the wrong word just for effect. But it turns out that, just as multiplication has higher precedence than addition, the noun clause has higher precedence than the preposition, so you're supposed to look at the noun clause in isolation first. In the clause, ‘whomever’ is used as a subject, so as I understand it (and I could be dead wrong), it should be ‘whoever,’ as in these examples:

Give your paper plates to whoever has the garbage can duty today.

Deliver it to whoever is supposed to get it.

You would say “Whomever you marry, make sure they're not crazy first” and “Give your used paper plates to whomever you want [to give them to],” but “Give your used paper plates to whoever wants them.” ’Whomever’ can also be an idiomatic expression, similar to “I don't want to do whatever,” but really it feels like it was chopped off, as if somebody punched the speaker's lights out before he or she could finish.

These examples captured out in the wild show how much difficulty people have with it:

The British NHS delivers health care free at the point of access to whomever needs it. (Are we getting what we pay for? Public Health. 2006 Nov;120(11):1013–9. George S, Julious S.) Link

We should not be deterred from helping whomever we can because there are others we are not able to help. (Pseudoinefficacy: negative feelings from children who cannot be helped reduce warm glow for children who can be helped. Västfjäll D, Slovic P, Mayorga M. Front Psychol. 2015 May 18;6:616) Link

Here's an example of (possibly) correct usage, in a sentence written by John Stossel:

Every private business should be allowed to refuse service to whomever they want.

It's grammatical, I think, not because of the ‘to’, but because it really means this:

Every private business should be allowed to refuse service to whomever they don't want to serve.

The example above about being deterred from helping whomever is similar. But why do we even have to worry about this? The whole issue is stupid. Whomever we can get to eradicate this terrible word will have our eternal gratitude. Or is it whoever we can get?

Nested prepositions

We're always told never to end a sentence with a preposition, as in this one:

According to the critical theory of relativity, a hole of color is a region of space exhibiting a cis-gendered heteronormative hegemonic privilege that no intelligence can escape from.

But is it possible to create nested prepositions at the ends of the sentence? Yes!

What do you want to know which plane he came in on for?

Where is the guy who asked what you wanted to know which plane he came in on for at?

Use to vs. Used to

There's lots of confusion out there about which of these is grammatical:

Didn't it use to be the case?

Didn't it used to be the case?

Well actually there's no confusion: lots of people have firm opinions. The problem is they all have different ones, and for reasons that don't always make sense.

In fact, there's a logical way to analyze this sentence. The rule is: you can't put two past tense verbs together. They're like plutonium. They will explode if they get too close.

You wouldn't say “I did used the wrench”, you say “I did use the wrench.” The second verb is always present tense. But if you drop the “did,” then you have to say “used,” otherwise there's no indication of past.

The fact that there's an infinitive after it may be important, but (again, AIUI) it's the compound verb that decides—another precedence rule. So you have to say

It used to be the case.

It never used to be the case.

It didn't use to be the case.

But some of them sound awkward. The grammar checker in Microsoft Word 7 doesn't even try to figure these things out. For once, I think that's a wise decision.

* Knuckle duster is the British term for brass knuckles.

Created may 06, 2017; last edited jun 30, 2017, 6:05 am

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