Yesterday’s Scenes From a Multiverse:
Jon Rosenberg’s comment, about the second panel:
I have no idea if Gil’s first line of dialogue is grammatically correct. I can tell you that I rewrote it about a dozen times and it is fully refined, correct or not. It is a grandiose turd with a diamond shine and I will not change it, ever.
Well, it’s still odd, thanks to the combination of with whom and hot lady … made the sexy.
The alternatives for treating the P with and the relative clause construction:
(1a) stranded P, zero relative: a hot lady boss I once made the sexy with
(1b) stranded P, that relative: a hot lady boss that I once made the sexy with
(1c) stranded P, WH relative, with form who: a hot lady boss who I once made the sexy with
(2) stranded P, WH relative, with form whom: a hot lady boss whom I once made the sexy with
(3) fronted P (which then requires whom): a hot lady boss with whom I once made the sexy
The three possibilities in (1) belong to what Geoff Pullum has labeled Normal style. The other two, with whom, belong to what Geoff called Formal style:
The accusative form whom (recently discussed by my colleague Lucy Ferris) is a classic marker of elevated style level in contemporary Standard English. The style that most of us use in e-mail and conversations is clearly distinct from a strictly formal one that is appropriate for official occasions or particularly solemn prose.
(Some discussion in my “The power of lore and dogma”, here.)
Alternative (3) is especially elevated: except in certain circumstances, P fronting is very formal, and then with a human object, it requires accusative whom, so that the result is doubly formal. But hot lady and the idiom made the sexy are both slangy, so that (3) is a NP that is laughably discordant in style. Maybe that’s the effect Rosenberg was aiming at: Gil reaching for elevated newstalk while boasting about a sexual encounter.
From “The power”:
Some earlier postings on this blog on the interaction between style and the choice of who vs. whom:
4/25/11: The siren song of whom (link): on Sluicing
4/18/12: Who(m) to V (link): on to-infinitival interrogatives, with a mention of WH echo / reclamatory questions
5/12/12: Quant of whom (link): on Quantifier + of whom relatives
5/14/12: Another informal WH construction (link): on exclamatory interrogatives
5/20/12: That’s WH! (link): on the X, that’s WH! construction in answers to questions
In each of these cases (except Quantifier + of whom), the informality of a construction favors who over whom even though the pronoun WHO is serving in an object function — this contrary to usage lore and usage dogma stipulating that whom is the only acceptable form for WHO in such functions.
Meanwhile, on Language Log, Mark Liberman discussed a simpler case, not centrally involving stylistic discord, from a New Yorker cartoon in which a man has previously typed, in e-mail:
She’s driving me crazy and I’m not sure who to turn to. [type (1c), in an interrogative, rather than relative, clause]
which a woman (surely the she referred to in the e-mail) incorrects to:
She’s driving me crazy and I’m not sure whom to turn to. [type (2)]
which might then, Mark observes, have been further incorrected to:
She’s driving me crazy and I’m not sure to whom to turn. [type (3)]
These are incorrections because there was nothing wrong with the original, nothing requiring correction; it’s in the Normal style appropriate for e-mail to a friend (especially in combination with the colloquial idiom drive s.o. crazy).