Sunday, 10 June 2007
I solicited opionions on the question of whether it's officious and stuffy to use whom when it's technically right, since most people simply don't use it at all.
In the response, John said "I'd say 'don't worry about using whom.' OTOH, keep in mind the person you are writing to, because they might be touchy about this sort of thing."
Right on. That was the essence of my reply (or so I hope it was understood). I'd summarize it this way:
That said, it's never wrong to use whom (correctly). When in doubt ...
- If you're writing anything that's formal or for wide public distrubution, use whom correctly. Corollary: If you use whom incorrectly ("Whom shall I say is calling?"), you look like an idiot.
- In informal writing (emails, say) if you're writing to people who a) you think will actually notice and b) actually care, use whom. (Correctly.)
- Otherwise, use who.
I happen to interact with a lot of people who definitely would notice, some of whom (haha) might care. So I probably write with whom more than the average bear, which I hope (?) doesn't make me sound like an insufferable prig. When I read others' writing, other than the mostly unconscious auto-editor reflex that simply rewrites everything, I don't really notice whether people are using whom. Or I don't care, is probably it.
None of these rules apply if you're writing fiction. Elmore Leonard:
If proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Hat tip to Nancy Friedman for that one.)