WHOMEVER!

I don’t like The Office (I got enough office nastiness in actual offices, thanks), but it’s certainly well written, and Ed Cormany of Descriptively Adequate has a superb analysis of a scene in which a bunch of people argue about the proper use of whomever. You don’t have to know the characters to enjoy it, and a YouTube video of the scene is right there so you can watch it before reading the discussion. As Ed says, “since the writers weren’t actually taking sides on the issue, but instead doing their best to represent its contentiousness, they were able to successfully portray several points of view and the way that such debates inevitably degrade into snarkiness.”
I got to Ed’s post via Ben Zimmer at Language Log; in the Update to that post you will find two diametrically opposed views from Log readers about the moribundity of the word: “whom is disappearing, but I hear whomever all the time” versus “‘Whom’ may be on its last legs, but it’s still out there, used by at least a significant minority of speakers, and everyone is aware of its existence. ‘Whomever’ … has been completely eradicated from most dialects of standard English (even in the formal register).” It would be interesting to see the results of a study of where and how it’s used.

Comments

  1. If you think the American version of The Office is nasty, you would detest the original UK version, or the German knockoff Stromberg. The American version can be very funny, but the characters all seem to have a core of basic human decency way down inside. That is not true of the UK or German versions.
    While it’s true that you don’t know have to know the characters to enjoy the clip you link to, it really is a lot funnier if you have some familiarity with the show, as each character’s reaction to the word “whomever” is pitch perfect.

  2. I’ve never seen the American version—my wife and I watched a few episodes of the original and gave up.

  3. We’ve been discussing a loss of who/whomever over at my blog as well…in the phrase “Can I help who’s next?” If you’re interested, it’s at:
    http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2007/10/can-i-help-whos-next.html

  4. Whomever is a disaster. It is less confidently and competently used even than whom. Search for whomever within Wikipedia and you will find many instances of it as nominative, in sentences like these:
    A party was held where the coffin was offered to whomever could fit inside.
    [From Legend of Osiris and Isis]
    A $1,000,000 prize was offered in May 2000 by the Clay Mathematics Institute to whomever proves any of the following statements about the Navier-Stokes equations.
    [From Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness]
    So what, you ask? Well, these articles are combed through and “corrected” by all kinds of people. The articles I have just quoted are not pop-cultural, and attract their share of “learned” scrutiny. Actually, I have sought out and fixed many instances in more central articles, so you will not find as many as you would have a month ago.
    Sentences like this are more tricky, and can be found in major newspapers – at least here in Australia:
    She distributed it to whomever she thought was worthy of it.
    [Constructed, modelled on similar cases for whom that I have on file for The Age, Melbourne]

  5. Ha! I see now that I had changed the instance in Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness to ”whoever”, but some anonymous editor then reverted it to ”whomever”, without comment! Lovely, for my example.

  6. parvomagnus says:

    A party was held where the coffin was offered to whomever could fit inside.
    Meh, call it “attraction to the antecedent” and it’s worthy of Plato. Or whomever.

  7. Yeah… meh. Whadever.

  8. Ho, hum, but “to whomever could” is pardonable, isn’t it, since the “to” implies that we are about to meet a dative whereas the “could” implies a nominative. Many people might well have in mind the model “To whom it may concern”, not spotting the structural difference. Given all the truly execrable English around, I think it behoves us to forgive small trespasses, especially if they don’t muck up the meaning. (Behooves?)

  9. Richard Hershberger says:

    I’m with LH on The Office. I watched the first couple of episodes of the BBC show through Netflix and couldn’t stand it. It was too painful: well acted, cleverly written, and utterly unwatchable.

  10. For more on cases like “the coffin was offered to whomever could fit inside,” see Arnold Zwicky’s two posts on Language Log, in which he refers to this type of whom(ever) usage as “ISOC” (“in-situ subject of an object clause”).

  11. And here was I, thinking the word was “behuwes,” dearieme.

  12. I haven’t come across “whomever” but I am constantly depressed by “yourself” instead of “you” from people in call centres – “We are calling yourself to explain why blah blah blah”…

  13. Paul: I am constantly depressed by “yourself” instead of “you” from people in call centres
    No need to call a call centre to hear people use “myself” in lieu of “me”. I’m sure it has struck yourself as much as myself, er?

  14. Moi suis d’accord, Syrianos.

  15. Siganus Sutor says:

    C’est vrai ? Yourself agree on that?
    BTW, comment va Sa Sagesse noétique ? (Toujours dans la grande ville schwatisée ?)
    [LH, pardon pour ce côté "potins" — myself shall stop soon. Mais "on" ne se refait pas comme cela passé un certain Age.]

  16. It brings a tear of reminiscent joy to my eye to see you and Noetica picking up the battlecock and shuttledore. It’s Tabellion redivivus!

  17. Siganus Sutor says:

    Oh… Steve, ne parlons pas de choses qui fâchent — sweet and sour things. Otan, suspends ton viol* ! Le Cimentier martien has almost nothing to do with cement anymore… Sniff… (No, no: no white powder to replace the grey one.)
     
     
     
    * Oops! an involuntary one! The “i” is really close to the “o” on a keyboard! and when one (i.e. “on”, i.e. io, je, me, moi, myself) has big fingers…
    - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
    ample evidence that whomever is similarly on its last legs. (Language Log)
    However true this statement might be, it could be wise, under certain circumstances, not to mention any kind of decline whatsoever.
    (Altogever, this is somewhat subjective, isn’t it?)

  18. Ah yes, Tabellion the sempiternal, soon to rise again hydra-headed from its hiatus. Tourbillon de poudre ni blanc ni gris ni doré, mais “couleur” de l’univers, dans lequel coulent et circulent les mystères les plus profonds du monde.
    Meanwhile, let us note that Shakespeare uses ”myself am” and ”ourselves are”; and that ”moi suis” is yer good and proper classic French, apt for certain contexts, as well as being heard on certain of The Islands (as I can only presume).
    (Myself am moved to email Silvestrianus, soon methinks.)

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