On language … once more

Once more I step into the linguistic jungle of English and fend off the syntactic beasts who maul the language but really should know better – in a university town like this one, at that!

I certainly think it more than appropriate that nine-eleven be memorialized, but it does bother me somewhat that this can’t be done in decent English.  What in the world happened to that all-but-extinct species known as the ‘proof reader’?

Today’s front page of the Iowa City Press Citizen notes (“9/11 influence still felt in politics” – for reasons I can only guess at, as of 13:57 Tuesday 11 September 2012 I was unable [and that may well be my fault!] to find a copy of this article on the paper’s web site) that this horrible event eleven years ago “… undoubtedly will impact the policies of whomever is inaugurated next January …”.

Whomever?

Try a math problem: what is the difference between these two equations?

4x + a = 0

and

4(x + a) = 0

Well, if a = 9, solving the first one for x will yield x = -9/4.

And if if a = 9, solving the second one for x will yield x = -9.

See what a big difference the parentheses make.

Now try that sentence again:  what is the difference between these statements?

… undoubtedly will impact the policies of whomever is inaugurated next January …

and

… undoubtedly will impact the policies of (whoever is inaugurated next January…)

See what a big difference the parentheses make.

The first sentence incorrectly takes ‘whomever’ as the object of the preposition ‘of’ – which leaves the finite verb “is [inaugurated]” with a subject in the objective case.  And that’s definitely a no-no.  I mean, you wouldn’t – I sincerely hope! — say ‘him is inaugurated’, so why would you way ‘whomever is inaugurated’?

But if you correctly take the whole subordinate clause (‘whoever is inaugurated next January’), and not just the relative pronoun, as the object of the preposition ‘of’ you get the correct form ‘whoever’ as the correct subject for ‘is inaugurated’!

Got it?

Boy, I really wish kids still studied Latin, even just one non-rigorous year in junior high would probably clear up a good deal of this kind of deplorable ignorance.  Of course, in line with the times, I appreciate that grammar is an entirely superfluous subject – a waste of time — in today’s busy school world.

I wonder if hiring a savvy English major from the UI would be helpful here.  I bet hiring a Classics major would!

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I used to be a Classics professor at the Big U.

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One Response to On language … once more

  1. Miss Alexandrina says:

    Disgraceful! If it makes you feel any better, I’ve studied Latin ever since I was eleven, and I’m glad to see that there are still many enthuastic students for the subject lower down in my school. However, I do think that it should be taught more throughout countries. Never is a dead language dead if there are still speakers of it surviving.

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