To whom shall I complain
about the death of the English language?

Roland Stahl
July, 2023

     I have been increasingly surprised that I never hear “whom” used anymore, either correctly or incorrectly.  I inquired on Google and found that just about everyone agrees that “whom” is totally moribund.  The general opinion seems to be that it is just archaic and useless.   Useless ~ that is the key to the problem.  Since most people these days limit their writing to six word blips, there really isn’t much use for anything complex.  However, I enjoy reading nineteenth century novels in which the characters speak in paragraphs, and grammatical construction is necessary to clarify the meaning and intention of the speaker or writer.  These days I can no longer rely upon correct grammar to indicate intentional construction.  When I am reading along and I come across the word “who” I have to look ahead at the rest of the sentence to figure out whether the word refers to the subject or object.  If only the writer used the correct case, all would be immediately clear.  

     Some people seem to think that correct grammar is only useful for attorneys, whose product is confusion.  The more confusion an attorney can create for his client, the bigger his fee.  But if you want to communicate clearly, the tools of grammar are there to assist.  Even commas contribute to the clarity of an expression (useless, of course, for communications of six words or less ~ I am only thinking about efforts to say anything too complex to be expressed within the six word limit of contemporary attention span).  

     Another point that comes up all the time is that few people have any idea of the correct usage of such arcane words as “whom” anyway.  I grew up on the East Coast, and attended schools in which a grammatical construction was not allowed unless it were in regular use by educated speakers or writers for at least a hundred years (matching the age of our textbooks).  Then when I moved to California, I was surprised to learn that a High School diploma simply meant that a person was too old to be in school anymore; they didn’t necessarily know anything.  Then I discovered that most California teachers knew as little about English grammar as their students.  

     I used to travel a lot and I would meet foreigners who wanted to improve their English by speaking with native speakers.  But I cautioned them about trying to learn correct English from speaking with typical American tourists ~ “If you want to learn correct English, you should speak with Japanese tourists, because they have been taught correct English in their schools.”

     So, for the vast majority of Americans, there is no need to worry or fuss about English grammar at all.  Your six word phone slang will be understood perfectly well by your peers.  Correct English grammar is only of interest to people with an interest in archaic English literature, such as actual books printed on paper in the hoary twentieth century, of distant memory.  (Do they still read Shakespeare in schools, or do they read translations into modern English instead?  They probably don’t read him at all ~ it is as improbable as reading Homer’s Iliad in the original Greek.)  [I thought I were being sarcastic here, but, to my surprise, I find there exist countless translations of Shakespeare into modern English.  I guess I’d better get back under my rock.  Then I was going to make some remark about the Classic Comic Shakespeare, but there probably is such a thing.]

     Extra credit if you spot the subjunctive mood used in this essay (twice) . . .

Short Articles

Current List

The Evanescent Press