Who knew 'whom' would fade away?

  • Article by: JAMES A. FUSSELL , Kansas City Star
  • Updated: September 18, 2012 - 3:30 PM

The dying pronoun just can't seem to find its identity -- or proper grammatical usage -- any more. As Aretha Franklin should have sang, "Who's Zoomin' Whom?"

To whom it may concern: We're not all that concerned with the proper use of "who" and "whom" anymore.

Oh sure, it was important to Ernest Hemingway when he wrote "For Whom the Bell Tolls" more than 70 years ago. We still teach "whom" in high school and use it as a salutation in letters to unknown recipients. And we might drop an, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," misquote of a John Donne poem into casual conversation.

But, you know, whom really cares, right?

In the world of Twitter and texting, "whom" is archaic, a grammatical anachronism. Even the Hallmark Channel is giving up. Hallmark is promoting the Oct. 20 premiere of an original movie called "I Married Who?"

It should be "I Married Whom?" The Hallmark Channel knows this. It just doesn't care. There's a good reason.

"I Married Whom?" sounds stupid. It's not colloquial. It's not natural.

Cut to preposterous movie scene:

(A knock comes at the door.)

"Who is it?"

"It is I, Reginald. Thou truly wast in thy cups last night, Catherine, but didst thou realizeth thou wedded the court jester?"

"Zounds! I married whom?"

See? Stupid. Or at least cringingly British.

Michelle Vicary, the Hallmark Channel's executive vice president of programming, said the title for "I Married Who?" needed to be fun, conversational and "relatable" to reflect the movie's contemporary story, about a bride-to-be, a Vegas bachelorette party and an inadvertent marriage to a movie star.

Make it too stilted, and nobody watches. In other words, ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for "whom."

It's a grammatical death knell.

Even some grammarians understand that "whom" is dying. One wrote the following on the Language Log blog :

"'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."

Well, some do.

Kevin Day still teaches the proper usage of "who" and "whom" in his International Baccalaureate English classes at Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kan.

But, come on, Kev. Does it really matter?

"I think it's a matter of knowing your audience," he said. "In informal speech, a lot of us -- even English teachers -- lapse into all sorts of informalities. But when you're writing an essay for a professor or an article for publication, it behooves you to follow every rule that you can. Because of the nature of your audience, those people are going to be judging you for every little punctuation mark and every grammatical mistake."

Who knew?

But even Day acknowledges that "whom" is whistling past the grammar graveyard.

"It's likely that eventually it will die out," he said. "And is the world going to be changed? Probably not, aside from the Earth's rotation being affected from English teachers spinning in their graves."

Why is "whom" dying? Beyond sounding stuffy, it's hard for many to understand when to use it.

Here's the general rule: Use "who" when it is the subject of a sentence or clause -- the one taking the action, as in "Who loves you?" Use "whom" when it is the object of a sentence or clause -- the recipient of the action, as in "Whom do you love?"

Got it?

No?

See the problem?

  • RIGHT BUT WRONG

    Many well-known songs and phrases use the incorrect "who," but who could argue in favor of these grammar fixes?

    "Whom Do You Love?" Bo Diddley (and George Thorogood)

    "Two, four, six, eight, whom do we appreciate?"

    "Who Made Whom?" AC/DC

    "Who's Zoomin' Whom?" Aretha Franklin

    "Whom ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!"

    Ray Parker Jr.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which of Rick Nelson’s must-try foods at the State Fair do you most want to try?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close