Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Whomever Wrote This Has Serious Mental Problems"

My goodness. Aside from the hostility reflected in that statement, please note the delicious use of "whomever." Practically nobody uses this word any more. However our psychological diagnostician has got it EXACTLY WRONG, you dolt! The word is whoever.

Livia despairs. Ignorant teachers, writers, and talking heads have perpetrated countless assaults on innocent syntax, confusing their audiences and leading to the feelings of inadequacy that result in horrors such as the one quoted (see also "I'm OK, Me's OK, Myself's a Bitch" from last November). Here's another:
Whom shall I say is calling?
Pity the poor receptionist (housemaid, butler) who has been taught that this question is "polite" English. The error arises from the interjection of "shall I say": no one (Livia devoutly hopes) would seriously ask whom is calling. Would she? Gods help us. And in fact, a truly polite way to ask is, "May I say who is calling?" But that's a different rant.

Who intensifies to whoever and is nominative: that is, it is the subject of a sentence or clause.

intensifies to whomever and is objective--the object of the sentence, clause, or preposition.
So how can one know which is the correct form to use? Simple, loveys. Livia will help you. The key is to substitute "he" or "him" for the pronoun. If "he" is the correct word, then use who or whoever. If it's him, use whom or whomever. See? Easy as slipping poison into wine. For example,
Give this package to whoever answers the door.
Now, tell Livia why whoever is correct in that sentence. Anyone? Sigh.

It's correct because whoever is the subject of the clause, NOT the object of the preposition "to." Who answers the door? He answers the door. Therefore, the nominative whoever is correct. ("Give the package to the person who answers the door.")

Let's try another:
I can give the package to whomever I want.
Here, the subject of the subordinate clause is "I," and whomever is in the objective position: I want to give the package to him.

Oh all right. Livia can see your eyes glazing over. She has done her best. Her last bit of advice is this: If your objective is to be bitingly sardonic, make sure it's in the right place.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Livia and Cicero Disagree

Cicero contends that it is inappropriate to attribute possessive qualities to inanimate objects, even if they are nouns, as in "Today's forecast calls for rain." I've never met Today, but he seems like an opportunist.

Livia maintains that "...inanimate objects do have the property of possession. One of the beauties of English is its adaptability. To get around the clumsiness of using Latinate structure—the financial analyst of the Times, the suspension of the Acura—English allows us to apply the shorthand ‘s: the result is clarity of meaning and simplicity of expression—two highly prized (by me, at least) elements of style." Her examples include: The Times’s financial analyst...; The Acura’s suspension...; The book’s plot...; The building’s character...; The city’s traffic....; The piano’s tone... You get the idea.

We are in the midst of an identity (power?) struggle. Cicero intends that Grammarsnot should (continue to) be our soapbox for inappropriate, wrong, and annoying usage choices. Cicero mainly objects to the freewheeling, obnoxious, egocentric, and ill-informed usage choices made by media types. Cicero's objection has always been that these usage choices are intended to provide the authors with a measure of control, deduced by readers as intelligence, thereby attributing erudition to those who do not possess it.

Livia's contention is that the possessive quality of some of the poor usage choices is correct, and therefore is not fodder for this venue. Cicero may be slightly overstating (or understating, or mis-stating, or mis-remembering per Roger Clemens), Livia's position.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Vanishing T

One of the beauties of the English language is its adaptability: its readiness to accommodate new coinages, accept foreign words as its own, change its orthography (look it up, loveys), and allow the correct meaning of a word to shine through a wide variety of pronunciations, both regional and dialect. Yet Livia finds herself yearning for the beautiful, crisp sound of the letter T defining the middles of words. Global communication and a tendency in America toward a non-accent accent, however, are gradually erasing that lovely letter.

Think about it for a moment, loveys: when was the last time you heard the name of the dreary season pronounced with its central T? "Winner" seems to describe both the season and the person picking up the lottery check. Shopping malls (and hospitals) have become "cenners"; horses now "canner"; and fugitives are "wan-ed."

And the words with doubled-up letters are faring no better: the two in this sentence (sennence) are pronounced "leder" and "beder."

Livia is certainly not suggesting that we all begin to sound like snooty butlers in bad drawing-room comedies. She does suggest that the trend toward extreme casualness in American life leads to a variety of unappetizing results: enter (enner?) any office building on a Friday in the summertime, and you'll get the idea. On her good days, Livia attributes sloppy pronunciation to an overabundance of informality.

On her bad days, she believes that a rising tide of anti-intellectualism is destroying American culture and that sloppiness in pronunciation is simply a manifestation of a truly frightening dumbing-down of our populace. She can only hope that, now that we have actual grown-ups running the country, attention to thought and expression will regain a central place in public discourse.

But don't hold your breath.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You Put the Bop in the Bop-Shoobop-de-Bop

...but who put the ICK in ick cetera? Seriously. Livia has heard the pronunciation "ick cetera" at least 5 times in the past week.

ET cetera, loveys. ET cetera. The phrase is Latin for "and so forth," not a description of a disgusting appendage. ET = AND. ICK = well, ick. Now you know, so knock it off. Unless you enjoy sounding like a fool.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

BizBuz: It's the New English

Livia's robustness is top-of-mind this evening, having successfully achieved good success going forward by leveraging her robust wordsmithing skills end-to-end across multiple volumes of a business proposal offering enterprise-wide IT services to the Federal Government.

If you don't understand what's wrong with that sentence, you deserve to spend the rest of your life with the Self-Important A*h**s (SIA, pron. see-ya) whose intellectual gifts are so limited that they actually think they are making sense when they write and speak such drivel. If you can top it, Livia will bow her head in shame, and Livia and Cicero will post your BizBuz contribution and award you a Snotty Star.