with whom

Yesterday’s Scenes From a Multiverse:

Jon Rosenberg’s comment, about the second panel:

I have no idea if Gil’s first line of dialogue is grammatically correct. I can tell you that I rewrote it about a dozen times and it is fully refined, correct or not. It is a grandiose turd with a diamond shine and I will not change it, ever.

Well, it’s still odd, thanks to the combination of with whom and hot lady … made the sexy.

The alternatives for treating the P with and the relative clause construction:

(1a) stranded P, zero relative: a hot lady boss I once made the sexy with

(1b) stranded P, that relative: a hot lady boss that I once made the sexy with

(1c) stranded P, WH relative, with form who: a hot lady boss who I once made the sexy with

(2) stranded P, WH relative, with form whoma hot lady boss whom I once made the sexy with

(3) fronted P (which then requires whom): a hot lady boss with whom I once made the sexy

The three possibilities in (1) belong to what Geoff Pullum has labeled Normal style. The other two, with whom, belong to what Geoff called Formal style:

The accusative form whom (recently discussed by my colleague Lucy Ferris) is a classic marker of elevated style level in contemporary Standard English. The style that most of us use in e-mail and conversations is clearly distinct from a strictly formal one that is appropriate for official occasions or particularly solemn prose.

(Some discussion in my “The power of lore and dogma”, here.)

Alternative (3) is especially elevated: except in certain circumstances, P fronting is very formal, and then with a human object, it requires accusative whom, so that the result is doubly formal. But hot lady and the idiom made the sexy are both slangy, so that (3) is a NP that is laughably discordant in style. Maybe that’s the effect Rosenberg was aiming at: Gil reaching for elevated newstalk while boasting about a sexual encounter.

From “The power”:

Some earlier postings on this blog on the interaction between style and the choice of who vs. whom:

4/25/11: The siren song of whom (link): on Sluicing

4/18/12: Who(m) to V (link): on to-infinitival interrogatives, with a mention of WH echo / reclamatory questions

5/12/12: Quant of whom (link): on Quantifier + of whom relatives

5/14/12: Another informal WH construction (link): on exclamatory interrogatives

5/20/12: That’s WH! (link): on the X, that’s WH! construction in answers to questions

In each of these cases (except Quantifier + of whom), the informality of a construction favors who over whom even though the pronoun WHO is serving in an object function — this contrary to usage lore and usage dogma stipulating that whom is the only acceptable form for WHO in such functions.

Meanwhile, on Language Log, Mark Liberman discussed a simpler case, not centrally involving stylistic discord, from a New Yorker cartoon in which a man has previously typed, in e-mail:

She’s driving me crazy and I’m not sure who to turn to. [type (1c), in an interrogative, rather than relative, clause]

which a woman (surely the she referred to in the e-mail) incorrects to:

She’s driving me crazy and I’m not sure whom to turn to. [type (2)]

which might then, Mark observes, have been further incorrected to:

She’s driving me crazy and I’m not sure to whom to turn. [type (3)]

These are incorrections because there was nothing wrong with the original, nothing requiring correction; it’s in the Normal style appropriate for e-mail to a friend (especially in combination with the colloquial idiom drive s.o. crazy).


One Response to “with whom”

  1. the ridger Says:

    I was thinking about this today when Lay Down, Sally came on the radio – specifically the chorus (Lay down, Sally, and rest you in my arms.
    Don’t you think you want someone to talk to?
    Lay down, Sally, no need to leave so soon.
    I’ve been trying all night long just to talk to you.

    Clapton wisely dropped the relative in the second line. ‘you want someone whom to talk to / you want someone to whom to talk / you want someone who to talk to / you want someone to who to talk’ – they’re all awful.

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