The bell tolls for “whom”

Here is a nice essay about the inevitable decline and fall of “whom,” a word that continues to exist only to trip people up and make them feel stupid. The Google Ngram Viewer for “whom” shows a decline of about 75% from its peak in 1820 or so to today.  But why?

One explanation is that the word has outlived its ability to fulfill the most important function of language: to clarify and specify. Another is that its subject/object distinction can be confusing to the point of frustrating. The most immediate reason, though, is that whom simply costs language users more than it benefits them. Correctness is significantly less appealing when its price is the appearance of being—as an editor at The Guardian wrote—a “pompous twerp.”

The writer quotes William Safire about what a writer should do about the word: “The best rule for dealing with who vs. whom is this: Whenever whom is required, recast the sentence.”

It’s annoying that “whom” continues to bedevil us when there are so many words that we need but that don’t yet exist.  Here are just a few:

  • A gender-neutral singular word for “they” and “them” instead of the atrocious “s/he” and the wordy “him or her”
  • A word like “either” that applies to more than two choices
  • A word for someone you are living with who is more than your girlfriend or boyfriend and less than your fiancée or spouse or (ugh) life partner

These words would make a writer’s life a whole lot better.  Whom can I talk to about coming up with them?

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