Thursday, April 5, 2012

Come and Knock on Our Door

Knock knock

Who’s there?


To who?


Someone told me that joke the other day, and you know what I did?

I laughed.

And then I panicked.

I panicked because I realized that I just laughed out loud at a super corny grammar joke.

I laugh at corny jokes, I listen to talk radio, I stop drinking before I get too drunk because I can’t afford to waste a day to nurse a hangover. What have I become? An adult?

Something strange is definitely going on because I’ve even started to like the word whom. I used to think whom was pointless and pretentious. I agreed with William Safire, author of the New York Times Magazine’s "On Language" who said, “When whom is correct, recast the sentence.” But in the past couple of years, I’ve acquired quite a taste for the word.

There are rumors, however, that the word whom may join the VCR, payphone and Paris Hilton in the land of oblivion. And just when I was developing an appreciation for it! In an effort to save whom from the endangered species list, I’d like to give a quick recap on when to use it:

Let’s pretend for a moment you are Ernest Hemingway. You just came up with the perfect title for your novel about the Spanish Civil War, but you can’t remember whether it should be For Who the Bell Tolls or For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Here’s what you do. You take a sip of your mojito and then ask yourself, “Ernest, old chap, does it make sense to say the bell tolls for him or the bell tolls for he?”

Then you take another sip of your mojito and answer, “It makes sense to say him.”

And that’s how you know that whom is the correct choice.

Here’s the trick: when we answer the question with him, we use whom; when we answer it with he, we use who. (We could substitute him with her and he with she, but him ends with m and so does whom, so it’s easier to remember.)

Let’s try another one:

Pretend you are Dr. Seuss and you just wrote a delightful book about an elephant. Is the correct title Horton Hears a Who or Horton Hears a Whom?


Mark said...

Following that advice my guess would be that "Horton Hears a Who" is in fact correct. I hope I can remember that, I was never sure when the use "whom" but I find it to be a lovely word. Also that knock knock joke was surprisingly funny. My first foray into grammar jokes.

Shelly said...

I found the joke quite funny and there will always be a place in my heart for whom. The Bosses of Grammar can say what they want, but I'll never discard whom.

Jo-Ann said...

That joke was quite funny!

And the reason I no longer drink excessively is because I dont wish to laugh at jokes that are even worse.

And by your reasoning, the good Doctor got his title wrong - Horton hears him. Shoulda been a Whom. The exception proves the rule?

Jemi Fraser said...

Ah, but a Who is a noun so... :)

I kind of like whom too - it would be sad to lose another word

James Garcia Jr. said...

Hey, Jenny. I was going down my blog list, saw "Come and knock on my door" under your name and totally had that theme song in my head before I opened your post! Hurray for the Three's Company reference!
Have a great long weekend, my friend.


Crystal Pistol said...

I always feel extra fancy when I say whom. I hope it does not go the way of all the earth.

I smiled at your joke. I didn't lol. But I smiled. :)

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Well, Dr. Seuss would say, "Horton Hears A Who", because he had previously written a story that took place in "Who-ville", not in "Whom-ville".

Look, I don't know what I'm yakkin' about. All I know is that I fell totally in love with you when you mentioned the delicious "mojito", not once but twice!

I love a chick who(-ville) loves mojitos!

[Did I read somewhere that you are already married? Damn-it all! Timing is EVERYTHING! Guess I'll just have to make myself five more mojitos and crawl along the gutters "Looking For Miss Right".]

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Dylan Fitzgerald said...

This is why I like the Latin accusative-- it just puts it all right out there.

Wouldn't it be Horton Hears a Whom? (Also worth noting: Dartmouth just named its medical school the Audrey and Theordor Geisel School of Medicine, so in this case, Horton might actually hear a heart murmur...)

Kelly Polark said...

That is a very clever way to remember that!

Terra Shield said...

I never really new how to really differentiate between who and whom other than going by the 'it sounds right rule'

Sadly, when I finally find out the usage through our blog, I also learn that it's going to be one of those words no one is going to care about! Such is life.

Anonymous said...

"Horton hears a Who" is correct! I actually know this grammar rule but for some reason shy away from the word whom. When the word rolls off my tongue i feel older and as an effort to shake away that old feeling I shake away the word...

DWei said...

At least you only laugh at corny jokes. I laugh at really terrible/offensive/inappropriate ones.

Mary Aalgaard, Play off the Page said...

I know how to use whom, but I'm afraid to use it for your above mentioned reasons. Perhaps I'll dare to use whom this year.

Play off the Page

Mykuljay said...

OMG woman - you drove me nutso with this one. Who/whom was the intended audience. I never have understood the distinction.

Theresa Milstein said...

I know this his-who/him-whom trick, but it often sounds stuffy. But before we screw up For Whom the Bell Tolls, I want us to tackle something more important. I want us to go back to the good old days when we could say, "Everyone put their papers or way." I don't want to say, "Everyone put his or her papers away. Then entire books choose a gender to avoid this tedium, leaving half the population out.

Whom can I blame for this change?

Pearl said...

Oh, it's "Who", baby. It's "Who".



anthony stemke said...

Thou hast come up with a great way of saving "whom" from oblivion - by showing how to use it. "Whom" shouldn't sound stuffy.
So, whither you use whom or don't will determine its joining 8-track tapes or not.

Brent Wescott said...

I tell myself I know the difference between Who and Whom, then my students ask me to explain it and I can't. I'll try this one next time. Thanks.

Love the joke.

Cool site here. and I like your grammar style.

Mykuljay said...

I love this! Especially the part about you now becoming an adult. I've always liked playing with the word - whom - but then again I love the written word even if I DO write entirely wrong. As to your final question here is my answer: Horton Hears a Dog Coming. (that's how I avoid the confusion) I mean really - whom do you think your blogging audience is? (please - not too many red marks Prof')

JDC said...

Always wondered about this.

Shelley Sly said...

I like the word whom! I don't always use correct grammar in speech and in casual writing (emails, texts, etc.) but I learned that he/him trick years ago to help me remember for when I write novels.

Shutterbug said...

haha, I like this one. I will have to use it sometime! :P

Laura Lee Nutt said...

You have just given the clearest, easiest explanation for how to tell when to use who and whom. Thank you!

Jono said...

Whom shall I say is calling?

Allen Garvin said...

James Thurber, in his satirical 'Ladies' and Gentlemen's Guide to Modern English Usage':

A common rule for determining whether "who" or "whom" is right is to substitute "she" for "who," and "her" for "whom," and see which sounds the better. Take the sentence, "He met a woman who they said was an actress." Now if "who" is correct then "she" can be used in its place. Let us try it. "He met a woman she they said was an actress." That instantly rings false. It can't be right. Hence the proper usage is "whom."