Unprovoked subject whom

Subject whom(ever) has been the topic of many postings on Language Log and this blog (an inventory of postings on who/whom, through 11/15/09, is available here). Occurrences of whom in subject position can be motivated by sentence syntax — in the configurations I’ve called ISOC and ESOC (see here and here) — or can be unmotivated by syntactic context, in what I’ll call unprovoked occurrences.

From Ben Zimmer a few days ago, via Nancy Friedman on Twitter, a remarkably contemptuous response to a customer complaint from an Australian fashion chain — with a burst of unprovoked subject whom in it, in combination with some unsureness about the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive relatives, beginning with

the customer whom is acclimatised to buying from “clothing for the masses” type retailers, is almost frightened by our range

Instead of being determined by syntactic configuration (via any of the systems for case-marking I’ve discussed), unprovoked subject whom conveys one or more (overlapping) symbolic associations of whom:

emphasis, forcefulness (whom is phonologically more substantial than who);

correctness (in one system of case-marking, whom rather than who is prescribed in certain syntactic contexts);

tradition, conservativeness (this system is conservative, even old-fashioned);

formality (in another system of case-marking, both who and whom are available in certain syntactic contexts, but whom is used in formal social settings);

social superiority, even contempt (a compound of correctness and formality);

seriousness, gravity

Astounding examples of unprovoked subject whom, put to various purposes, appear on Language Log beginning at least in 2004 (here and here), including a Mark Liberman posting with quotations about the matter (among them James Thurber’s wonderful advice that whom should be used “only when a note of dignity or austerity is desired”).

So now we get a barrage of socially superior (roughly, “in your face, bitch!”) subject whom from Australia:

The reason for this is to ensure that we only carry products which appeal to a very fashion forward consumer. This by default means that the customer whom is acclimatised to buying from “clothing for the masses” type retailers, is almost frightened by our range, sometimes we have found that this type of customer, almost finds our dresses funny …

Insofar as our employee goes; Similar to our product offerings, our employees are selected with a similar approach. Chris whom served you is a qualified stylist whom has a sixth sense for fashion, and Chris’s only problem is that he is too good at what he does, and as I am sure you are aware, people whom are talented, generally do not tolerate having their time wasted, which is the reason you were provoked to leave the store.

… Chris is a retail superstar, who possess unparalleled ability, and I am sorry you feel upset by him, but he knew you were not going to buy anything before you even left your house.

Note the subject who in the last example; unprovoked subject whom tends to be variable. (Yes, there are other things in this passage to red-pencil. It’s a nice example of “writing up”.)

5 Responses to “Unprovoked subject whom

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    On Facebook, Michael Palmer notes that Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served? was given to USW. That fits with her character.

  2. Who(m) to V « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] instances of whom in subject function, with a range of symbolic associations (enumerated here). In the face of such examples, a reasonable response would be to simply advocate the use of System […]

  3. Stan Says:

    I thought of this post when I saw this notice.

  4. Unprovoked subject whomever « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] “that whoever wins the state” outnumbers “that whomever wins the state” 10 to 1 — roughly 60 examples to 6, when irrelevancies and duplicates are omitted — but whomever occurs as a complement subject surprisingly often, and in the writing of experienced writers in serious contexts. These examples are the -ever parallel to the “unprovoked subject whom” cases I talked about in an earlier posting. […]

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