Facing Grammatical Extinction

by Matthew Sitman

Megan Garber unpacks the decline of “whom”:

[T]he Internet, itself almost aggressively forward-looking, institutionalizes the errors. Dating sites talk about the people “who you match with.” Twitter offers its users a recommendations list titled “Who to Follow.”

We break the old rules, then, because new rules are, effectively, replacing them. Few of us still use whom in speech, and we’ve adopted that practice in our writing, particularly in more-casual forms (e‑mails, texts, IMs). What scholars refer to as “secondary orality,” the tendency of written language to adopt the characteristics of speech, is for many of us the new linguistic reality. According to the language blogger Stan Carey, “Whom is unnecessary—indeed, it’s out of place—where a conversational tone is sought.” We type with our telephones and we chat with our keyboards and we write, increasingly, as we talk. And—to whom it may concern—our words rise, and fall, accordingly.