Monday, September 6, 2010


I don't want to be one of those overbearing scolds who correct other people's grammar in public, but I was startled the other day by this sentence on page 68 of James Shapiro's informative book, Contested Will, which discusses a lawsuit filed in 1600 by one William Shakespeare: "Scholars still can't agree whether this was our Shakespeare or another who sued Clayton; whomever it was, it fit the pattern of a tight-fisted Shylock all too well."

Whomever? I realize that there are times when the who/whom distinction can be tricky, but this isn't one of those times. "Whom" should appear only as the object of a verb or preposition, and this sentence contains no verb or preposition of which whom could possibly be the object. The only verb is the vicinity is "was," which is a linking verb and doesn't take the objective case anyway. No matter how you parse it, "whomever" is out of place. And if you want to make the case for "fit," then whomever is being used incorrectly as the subject — drop the comma and the second it, and you get, "Whomever it was fit the pattern ... all too well," and the incorrect use of "whomever" stands naked before the world.

I do hope this was a copy-editing mistake and was not done at Shapiro's insistence. The guy is an English professor at Columbia, for heaven's sake. A slip like that makes me wonder about the value of higher education. (And so the grammar scold in me, so long suppressed, rises to the surface once more.)


E. Henry Thripshaw said...

"the grammar scold in me, so long supressed, rises to the surface once more"

You should also know that "suppressed" has two Ps! :)

Joe Barron said...

Oh, I can spell. I just can't type. Thanks for pointing out my mistake. Correction made.