The Word "Whom" Deserves a Defender*

I often face questions of grammatical style in my day job; medical writing rivals the deepest Southern dialects for “most made up words.” When people come to my cubicle to ask if “flowability” is hyphenated, my first response is, “I don’t know. Is flowability a word?”

With no grammatical style guide to reference, I’m free to make up my own rules. I get to decide, for example, that a comma before the “or” or “and” in a series is superfluous. Why? Because I think they’re stupid, and with no concrete rule telling me otherwise, I’m the boss on this one!

So is flowability hyphenated? No! Why? Because I said so!

Perhaps all this power has gone to my head. What was it Lord Acton said about absolute power? That it corrupts absol…oh who cares. He should have diversified his adjective and adverb.

But now a secret: I don’t know everything. At least three eleven times a week I’m stumped by a grammatical question, and because I don’t trust printed language manuals that are out of date before they’re fully printed (after all, “ours is a living language,” as one of my colleagues eloquently pointed out yesterday), I usually turn to that source of all that is true and good, the Internet.

Many of you may know Grammar Girl from her popular podcasts. For me, podcasts are kind of “meh,” because I can’t sing along to them at the top of my lungs while imagining myself in old jeans and a western shirt playing a beat-up Gibson in a Nashville studio alongside Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons (I know, he’s dead, but this is my fantasy and I can resurrect whomever I please). I just have to sit there and listen, and is it any surprise that I’m not very good at that?

But Grammar Girl also maintains a delightful website, where she posts transcripts of her podcasts for pod-non-believers like me. I visit her site hourly to check usage or recall a rule. The other day, I noticed her post on style guides.

It’s another in a string of great resources from Grammar Girl. She links to the Economist’s style guide, my favourite for its snooty disdain of "Americanisms" (it’s hilarious; I imagine it being read aloud from a parliamentary bench by a powdered-wig-wearing John Cleese-type sillyman). She also links to a map of language from the MLA, which I imagined as a map of colloquial language, of regional dialects. In fact, it's just a map of who speaks what language where, and isn't quite as detailed as I'd like it to be. Imagine, though, a map of the United States with the dialects in place. So, for example, Western PA would be listed as a place where people pronouce the "ow" sound like "ah." So it's "dahntahn," not "downtown." And Utah would be noted for its peoples' love of the past perfect and past future tenses. "She had gone with me. Were you going to come with us?" What? That doesn't even make sense! Here's another example, frequently used by receptionists, "What was your name?" No! No! My name IS what it is, was and will be! It hasn't changed, it won't be different tomorrow!

Good lord, I feel like one of these guys:

Well, anyway, you get my point. That's all I have for you tonight. Tomorrow will be a big day, so I'm off to bed.

* Many thanks to Liz Lemon for her dedication to good grammar.

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