Errors & Omissions: It’s becoming clear that, for ‘whom’, the bell tolls

The accusative case, hippies, datelines, hallowed and other infelicities in this week’s Independent

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This is from an arts feature last Saturday about Dustin Hoffman (above): “He has since had four children with his current wife, who he married in October 1980.”

“Whom” is not going to disappear altogether: it will still be used immediately after prepositions. “To who did you give it?” is inconceivable – though speakers and writers will often prefer “Who did you give it to?”

However, the use of “whom” as the accusative case for the object of a verb (as in “whom he married”) is becoming rarer. And it is difficult to argue that the language is thereby impoverished. Nonetheless “who he married” still looks odd to me, and I would prefer “whom”.

• On Wednesday we published an obituary of a wonderfully eccentric American beekeeper called Burt Shavitz. It informed readers: “The life of the former hippy making a living selling honey was altered by a chance encounter…”

I was never a hippie but I was around at the time, and that is how it is spelt, with an –ie. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

• The News in Brief items on our foreign pages are all datelined above the headline with the name of the country the news has come from. On Monday one such item reported: “An unmanned Russian cargo ship docked successfully at the International Space Station, where it was anxiously awaited by the US-Russian crew after the failure of two previous supply missions.”

The dateline said: “Russia”. That was, of course, the safe option, and I won’t say it was wrong. That was where the agency report came from. But what a pity to have passed up the chance of a dateline saying “In Earth orbit”. It would have been factually accurate, as well as enormous fun.

(Many years ago, as a sub-editor working on the news pages of The Northern Echo, I similarly passed up the chance to dateline a story “Mars”. I have regretted it ever since.)

• A news story on Monday began: “Two men died yesterday and two people were injured after being hit by separate lightning strikes while walking in the Brecon Beacons in Powys.”

I’m sorry to go on about this, but the use of “after” to signify “as a consequence of” constantly throws up such temporal absurdities. The deaths may be said to have happened after the lightning strike, but not the injuries; they definitely happened at the moment of the strike, not after it. What is wrong with “when they were hit”?

• On Wednesday we ran a feature about the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, California. It told how producers of superhero movies woo the crowds in “the hallowed Hall H, where the Hollywood studios present their blockbuster wares to fans”. So far so good, but in the introductory blurb that became: “Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd.”

“Hallowed” means dedicated to a holy purpose. The hall may be hallowed, but the crowd isn’t.

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