“Which-hunting” refers to editing which and that based on the superstition that the former should be used with a nonrestrictive clause and set off by commas; editors enslaved to this doctrine scrutinize manuscripts for relative clauses and zealously change whiches to thats or encase them in commas, with the satisfaction of someone lining up the pencils on their desk until they’re all perfectly parallel. This often produces esthetically displeasing results, but rarely does it have the potential of wreaking such havoc as in a sentence (Decision 4 of the International F.A. Board to Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct) from soccer/football’s Laws of the Game:

A tackle, which endangers the safety of an opponent, must be sanctioned as serious foul play.

Since other versions (e.g., French: “Un tacle qui met en danger l’intégrité physique d’un adversaire doit être sanctionné comme faute grossière”) make it clear that the clause was meant to be restrictive, proper which-hunting would have turned the sentence into “A tackle that endangers…” But it’s so easy to get caught up in the game of changing whiches to thats that you lose sight of the point of it all and run the risk of this sort of thing. If I were a referee, I would zealously whistle every single tackle, explaining that Decision 4 of the IFAB banned tackles altogether and handing them a card with the phone number of whoever approved this abomination. Of course the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) probably doesn’t recognize the English version of the rules as definitive, but it would be fun until I got a cease-and-desist call from Zurich or was stomped to death by outraged players, whichever came first. (Via Mark Liberman’s Language Log post.)

Note decisions 5 and 6 to the same Law, the former showing a similar application of the “rule” and the latter showing that who clauses escape the excrescent commas:

Decision 5
Any simulating action anywhere on the field, which is intended to deceive the referee, must be sanctioned as unsporting behaviour.
Decision 6
A player who removes his jersey when celebrating a goal must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour.


  1. I love that they’ve got rules against taking your shirt off, but in actual practice don’t even mind if you fake injury in order to unfairly disadvantage the other team. Good old soccer. (Yes, I said soccer!)
    Re the end of paragraph 2: in Japan, I’ve noticed that a lot of contracts and agreements here which have a Japanese version and an English version include a note saying something like “in cases where the English contract conflicts with the Japanese one, the Japanese one shall take precedence”. Do FIFA mention anything like that?

  2. MS Word is among the which-hunting cranks.
    They also make erroneous recommendations regarding subject-verb agreement in some cases. As I remember, they have the verb agree with the nearest noun rather than the subject when the subject is modified by a prepositional phrase, recommending “The leaders of the group is….” or the like.

  3. We were required to leave the grammar and spell check on at my proofreading job in Istanbul, and I think we were rated on how many green and red squiggly underlines we left in.

  4. I forget whether Olympic soccer is governed by FIFA, but, if so, it does mean that Brandi Chastain should have been cautioned under Decision 6.

  5. Brandi Chastain violated Decision 6 after winning the ’99 Women World Cup. However, the rule only came into effect during the (Men) European Championships in 2004.

  6. Astonishingly, the MS Word grammar checker, which is almost always counterproductive in English, is astonishingly good in Spanish. And yes, I repeated my adverb; it’s just that damn astonishing. Every time it tells me I should be using the imperfect subjunctive, I am astonished. And I am also astonished by the fact that basically every time it tells me such, it’s right. Astonishing!

  7. Also, I’m really amused by the idea of a field intentionally designed to baffle the ref. I’m picturing something sort of Escherian.

  8. …”in cases where the English contract conflicts with the Japanese one, the Japanese one shall take precedence”
    If this is from the English contract, how earnestly we hope that the Japanese contract provides for the precedence of the English version, in the case of any conflict.
    A player who removes his jersey when celebrating a goal must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour.
    And are there not some few that say this should have a that, not a who, since the qualification is a restriction?
    A player that removes …

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