I’ve always had doubt about our educational system in the Good Ol’ United States. The fact that they call it the “Good Ol'” anything should be a hint. But the two kids I have that are still in school (one graduated from college already, thank you) have brought home some homework that is a bit outdated. It doesn’t worry me so much because they realize it. It just worries me that so many people won’t realize that.
Let’s start with “whom.” The purpose of language is to communicate – express ideas in a consistent method that others can easily understand. Is the difference between “who” and “whom” really that big a deal? Not only do both words sound alike, they really mean the same thing. The rule for use is basically: if you’d put “he” then you use “who” and “him” you put “whom.” Of course, you can use “she” and “her” but I was trying to keep that short and simple but some people like to make a fuss so here’s another gender version. (More on those later.) My actual point is this: do you really no understand what is being said if someone says “who” instead of “whom”? Does the entire language devolve? Disintegrate? Will the world end because I said “who” instead of “whom”?
People have been using the wrong one for… ever, really. The world hasn’t ended. It wasn’t that one last “who” that released the corona virus. Or bird flu. Or small pox. The “technically” wrong term was used. Was the idea conveyed? Did the person on the receiving end of that sentence understand? Yes. I can say with relative certainty, they did. Why? It can’t be that hard. And if you are “smart” enough to understand the difference, you can certainly understand what was being said to you at the time. If you feel the urge to correct someone, do it politely. I’ve heard people correct it many times over my life, which, if I’ve got a kid who’s graduated from college, is probably longer than you’d thought at the beginning of this. But NEVER have I heard it corrected in a non-dickish manner.
Every time I hear it corrected that way, which is all of them, I picture an action movie. Two characters are on the screen when suddenly gunfire erupts. One of them says “whom is shooting at us?” while ducking under cover. The other says “It’s ‘who is shooting at…” and that’s when they take a bullet to the head from whoever is shooting at them. A bit violent, I know. Just for annoyance purposes, I’d make it a robot shooting so it would technically be “whatever is shooting at us.” Just to rub it in.
Regardless of my violent little amusement, there was another issue that was brought up during that little tirade. Did you notice it? The gender thing is about to rear its unusually shaped head. I have no problem with people who want to be transgendered or will claim to be one of what I’m calling the “new genders.” Growing up, we had four. Yes! Four. Male, female, both or neither. Granted those last two were a bit scarce. But if the “new” genders continue on the path they’re on now, it will only be a matter of time before they get their own pronouns. And THAT scares me a little.
Not only will we have to figure out what gender someone is so we use the correct pronoun when referring to that person, but I don’t think people have quite noticed that this gender thing will have a global effect on languages, not just English. Actually, English would be one of the easier ones. The French are going to be a bit screwed by the whole thing.
Lost you? I’ll catch you up. The concept is easy. It’s the follow through that’s going to be difficult. French still uses gendered pronouns to refer to objects. Apple, for example, is “la pomme.” “La” being a feminine pronoun – thus all apples are, for some reason, feminine. But what if it comes from a hybrid tree? Is it still feminine? Would it switch to the masculine “Le”? Would it have a new pronoun? Would it become “Lu Pomme”? Or “Lo Pomme”? How would you be able to tell from a distance or without labels?
What I’m saying, in my own silly little way, is that we shouldn’t get carried away with gender pronouns… or the “correct” use of “who” or “whom”. As long as the idea is still conveyed, there shouldn’t be an issue. If you understand what’s being said, great. Let the rest of it go. Now if you come across that guy from “Honey Boo Boo” who speaks in such deep southern that you can’t understand him at all, my advice would be run. Just run.