Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday 14 February 2010

For Whom, the Bell tolls

Whom, it seems, is dead. It's been fading for some time now - not out and about as much as it used to be, failing to turn up on occasion - and there have been concerns about its survival prospects.

And now the front cover of the Sunday Times Style section has administered the coup de grace. There it stands, in black and white; "Who do you love?" Not whom, but who. Subject, object, who cares? We're all stylish and fashionable and now.

The imminent demise of this lamented interrogative pronoun was foreshadowed some years ago when I found myself addressing a group of twelve-year-olds. One of them looked at the words written on the board - 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' - and exclaimed triumphantly, "You've made a mistake! There's no such word as 'womm'".

A quick vox pop found that several more shared this opinion, although a couple of them, on reflection, 'might have heard it somewhere before'. Anyway, it was all far too much effort to try and understand it.

I expect they all went on to have careers in journalism.


  1. Funnily enough, I've just found myself typing it in a post for either later today, or tomorrow. I didn't give it a second thought, but you're right, you don't see it very often.

  2. It tolls for thee. And Beware The Ides Of March as well, politically, that is.

  3. JuliaM, the fact that you use it without a second thought is probably a clear indicator that you belong to the pre-GCSE generation.

    Incidentally, I have just remembered that the 12-year-old I mentioned has a parent who is a journalist, for the Mail, no less - honest truth!

    Demetrius, perhaps someone should helpfully warn Gordon Brown about the 15th March?

    (To my shame, I had to go and check whether I remembered rightly: “In March, July, October and May, the Ides Fall on the fifteenth day.”. Knowing this probably makes me an enemy of the state in Ed Balls' Britain.)


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