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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Love, its trials, and the grammar whereof I speak.

March Beach Day 

“Whoever whom has loved, has lost.”
I was deep at work writing an essay when I wrote the sentence above. I was struck by its beauty and conciseness, and its very real brush with truth.  However, an overriding concern arose. First, was I inadvertently quoting the Bard, or some other great master?  Sometimes we hear a phrase so often that we mistakenly take it as our own.  I googled the sentence without finding a hit.  I wondered if I was botching the grammar, and therefore was inadvertently eliminating a successful search.  Even when I switched up the who and and whom, I found no record of that statement.  I was not entirely convinced of the originality of the sentence, but I certainly did begin to grow concerned that my grammar might be faulty.  
 At one time in my solitary life as a writer, I had an editor who would be good enough to catch me up on such things. I developed a sense for areas where I might be going awry.  I was a canary in a goldmine when it came to identifying suspect clauses, commas and dangling participles.  Later, I had a small circle of friends with whom I could exchange grammatical concerns without seeming overwhelmingly nerdy. Better yet, this group of writer’s -- in no way affiliated with one another -- were a fabulous resource when I felt I might be making a wrong turn. Without fail, there would be someone --no more than a phone call away -- to whom I might turn for advice and direction.  With the spread of computers and the easy access to information, I became less reliant on friends, and more reliant on Internet sources.  One of my favorite sites for grammar 101, 201, 301  and more is Grammar Girl.  With the looming uncertainty of the sentence highlighted above, I went directly to 

It appeared I already had read the discussion on not one, not two, not three occasions. On at least five separate times, I had navigated to the discussion of whomever versus whoever.  As I drew to the close of the advice on this visit, I noticed that,

“This article was written by Neal Whitman, who has a PhD in linguistics and blogs at Literal Minded, and it was edited and read in the podcast by Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”
I was previously unaware that there existed a PhD in linguistics and Blogs. “Who on earth is this Neal Whitman?” I asked myself, “and what source did he use for this information on a particularly sensitive grammatical concern of mine. I read on and found that he based some of his comments on an article he found in a language log. 

I was like a dog on scent. I followed the crumbs to the link. When I opened it, I could have opened a book in a foreign-language I had studied, but not entirely grasped at the time of reading. I could make sense out of every third or fourth word, but somehow, couldn’t derive a coherent thought from anything I read.  I quote from Mr. Whitman’s primary source, “As I said in my earlier posting, here we have an object clause (usually the object of a P) with WHO as its subject.  The pronoun then immediately follows the governor, and could easily be mistaken for its object (even though it's the whole clause that's the object). So the pronoun picks up its case from its location, rather than from its syntactic function within its clause.”  If I asserted myself, and waded through the verbiage to the very end, I still came up scratching my head and wondering exactly what happened here. I was not much different than a child at a magic show, who, seeing the rabbit disappear right before her eyes, bursts into tears.

 A better sentence, "Whoever that has loved has lost." 
Apparently, it is possible that we can delve so deeply into a commonly regarded subject that we can lose sight entirely of its meaning. I had best leave grammar alone and head back to the vicissitudes of the heart. Indeed, I will stick with that which I know better than the back of my own hand -- the many faces of love and its trials.