Acouple of years ago, a frustrated plaintiff appealed to the Court of Peeves, Crotchets & Irks. He sought an order abolishing "whom." His motion was denied, but in deference to custom, it was regretfully denied.
The court agreed that only 14 persons in the English-speaking world are known to have a confident handle on "whom." Everyone else looks uneasily at the plump little pronoun and then looks away. As many petitioners have made clear, the topic will not disappear.
Delbert O. Lawrence of Bellevue, Wash., quotes from the New York Times early in July: "In his choice of a running mate, John Kerry went with a political hottie whom he hopes will enliven his campaign."
"Whom he hopes"? The court tentatively, diffidently, hopefully, advances the thought that the sentence ought to read, "who he hopes will enliven his campaign." Reader Lawrence is of the same opinion. He has revived a motion to eradicate: "I think we should just forget 'whom.' It causes more problems than it prevents."
Ivan Mann, of somewhere in Cyberspace, concurs: "In daily usage, people constantly use 'who' and 'whom' incorrectly, but it never detracts from understanding the sentence. If there is no benefit from 'whom,' why keep it?"
Has the time come to abolish "whom" and its pudgy cousin "whomever"? The Court of Peeves rules that the survival of "whom" is too important an issue to be left to a bench trial. A question this cosmic calls for a jury. The clerk will offer in evidence:
A two-page ad from IBM, undated, with a single question in 96-point type: "Who do you need?" Sounds acceptable to the court, but vote!
Quotation from Norman Mailer in USA Today, 4/3 0/0 2: "You cross a line when you enter someone's mind who you haven't interviewed." Could Mailer be wrong?
Editorial in the Durango (Texas) Herald, 5/2 3/0 3, commending a Memorial Day bicycle race: "Total prize money is up, with the addition of a $2,000 bonus for whomever can break the records." The court likes "whoever can break."
Op-ed piece in the New York Times, July 2003, by Scott E. Thomas of the Federal Election Commission: "More than three decades ago, Congress devised a pretty good way to insulate whomever gets elected president from the influence of wealthy special interests." The court reserves judgment.
Headline in the Times, 7/5 /01: "Who Do You Trust?" It should be "whom," but look: Are we reader-friendly or reader-snooty?
Book review in the Buffalo (N.Y.) News, undated: "Having set the stage, Justice O'Connor moves into the personalities of those justices whom she believes helped shape the court." Will anyone vote to reverse a sitting justice? Briefs amici are welcome.
The Court of Peeves is in one of its recurring pouts. While we're abolishing the distinction between "who" and "whom," let us banish the notion that "none" always takes a singular verb. The notion is unmitigated nonsense, but it enjoys amazing persistence. Not long ago, a columnist well-known to the court was writing about a case in California. He said of the several defendants that "none of them are likely to face prison time." A fastidious editor changed it to read, "None of them is likely . . . " Aaarrgh!
In his "Modern American Usage," Bryan Garner observes sensibly that "none" means both "not one" and "not any," hence "not one is" and "not any are." Writers are free to play it either way, with a mashie or a niblick, but "none is" usually sounds more emphatic -- and more stilted.
Readers are invited to send dated citations of usage to James J. Kilpatrick in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.