To whom it may concern: Is “whom” outdated?

You won’t be surprised to learn language evolves over time, and we collectively kick unfortunate words to the curb.whom is dead

Or, art thou?

Indeed, some words are on their way to the literary grave. And “whom,” it’s your turn.

In the April 2013 issue of The Atlantic, the article “For Whom the Bell Tolls” caught my eye. I take that back. It was Megan Garber’s subtitle that entranced me: “The inexporable decline of America’s least favorite pronoun.”

While I’m not a fan of unnecessary formality, I felt a little sad to see this word obituary.

She goes on to explain that “whom” has been dying a slow death since 1826. Apparently Time magazine included 3,352 instances of “whom” in the 1930s, and only 902 in the 2000s. Garber insists “technology seems to be speeding up the demise” of the grammatically incorrect.

She’s right. We didn’t sing along with Ghostbusters theme song, “Whom Ya Gonna Call,” nor do we see “Whom to Follow” on Twitter.

Perhaps I have a soft spot for phrases without a future.

Or maybe it’s my defense of four-letter words. In any case, I call for a moment of silence for whom the bell tolls.

What would you like to add to my R.I.P.?

P.S. While we’re talking grave yards, here’s why I dance a little jig every time I go to my local cemetery.

 


2 Comments


  1. I’m cracking up over “whom ya gonna call”! As someone who once had to tutor college students in the proper use of “whom,” I can tell you that popular opinion among twenty-somethings is NOT favorable toward this four-letter word. Dozens of them cried out in despair over trying to learn proper usage of a word that seems so outdated. (At least three of them actually cried.) Personally, I make a mental note of all the places I should be using “whom,” just to remind myself I know the rule, then use “who” instead. It’s a little sad to see it go, but it’s had its day.

  2. Totally agree about whom! Let the language evolve. I often wonder to what extent the widespread dissemination of standardized grammatical knowledge has inhibited the natural evolution of languages in the past couple of centuries.

    On a side note, it is conventional to use the same auxiliary or modal verb as was used in the original sentence when adding a question tag.
    (e.g., “You won’t be surprised to learn language evolves over time, and we collectively kick unfortunate words to the curb.
    Or wilt thou?”)
    “Art” is an archaic form of the present tense of the verb “to be.” Since the future form “won’t” was used in the original sentence, it would be more appropriate to use the archaic future form in the question tag.

    Additionally, the use of a comma in a question tag is unnecessary.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Chat with Do-Almost-Everything Mom: Editor Jeanette Bennett

Chat with Do-Almost-Everything Mom: Editor Jeanette Bennett

Yesterday I sat down for a chat with one of my role models. I don’t use that term lightly. Jeanette Bennett,...

2016: The year I regain spare minutes and have more fun

2016: The year I regain spare minutes and have more fun

This year I'm simplifying my goals. Rather than a list of resolutions, I'm still going strong on my five-word theme...

Every writer starts somewhere

Every writer starts somewhere

I'm still here, resisting breaking a cardinal rule of blogging: Never apologize for not blogging. It's been many months since I've...

Believing in language

Believing in language

In your final hours, what words would you share with the world? I've recently finished an inspiring life reflection by an Auschwitz...