Indefinite Relative – Esquire Magazine

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Always tricky, these indefinite relatives. This one even more so (and illustrative) because the writer truncated the clause, i.e. the clause isn’t stated explicitly but is rather implied: ‘to whomever else [wanted them]’. And therein lies the problem. Just because the clause isn’t explicitly stated doesn’t mean the grammar doesn’t apply. The ‘whom’ in ‘whomever’ is there because of the ‘to’. But ultimately the ‘to’ is irrelevant to the ‘whomever’. The whole clause is the object of ‘to’; the grammar of ‘whomever’ is beholden to its clause rather than to ‘to’. And because it is the subject, albeit of an implied clause, though a subject nonetheless, it should ‘whoever’ rather than ‘whomever’.

Gender Neutrality and They

This year’s American Dialect Society‘s word of the year was ‘they’, not so much the pronoun itself but the use of the pronoun as a gender neutral singular pronoun:

The use of singular they builds on centuries of usage, appearing in the work of writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. In 2015, singular theywas embraced by the Washington Post style guide. Bill Walsh, copy editor for the Post, described it as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms.

I ran across an interesting illustration of the tension implicit in the word this morning. I saw a series of tweets from Boston news outlets about a shooting in which the shooter took ‘their’ own life. I wondered whether this was grammatical laziness or an actual lack of knowledge of the gender of the shooter (and kudos to them for not assuming a male, though I did).

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Fox 25’s first tweet I think handles it most elegantly with the simple, if spare, ‘took own life’. Channel 7 uses ‘their’ and Fox 25 follows suit a few minutes later.

I looked into the story and it turns out that in fact the gender was not known. Cambridge police uses ‘their’, while the Fox 25 website in the headline uses ‘own’ and in the text uses ‘his or her’, itself I would say a confirmation of unknown gender and the use of ‘their’ to indicate this unknown gender rather than grammatical laziness.

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An interesting collection of examples of the way grammar can be interpreted both (potentially) incorrectly and, in the end, it seems, correctly.