Michael Williams: Readers' editor

To whom it may concern – give or take an 'm'
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The Independent Online

Never mind the banks, mortgages or energy prices: reader Chris Hall from Henley-on-Thames has something really important on his mind. "Dear Michael," he writes. "Since it is part of your duty to pontificate about the English language and its use, would it be too much to ask you to recognise and maintain the useful distinction between who and whom?"

The 'Independent' titles do have a style ruling on this – albeit a rather high-minded one, quoting an incorrect usage from the paper, which runs: "A sex killer was jailed for life yesterday for the murder of his lover who he strangled and fed to the pigs."

"Mistakes like this are too common," the Style Book opines loftily. "If in doubt ask yourself how the clause beginning 'who/whom' would read in the form of a sentence giving 'he'/'him' or whatever, instead. In the case above, you would get 'He strangled her and fed her to pigs'. If the 'who/whom' person turns into 'he','she' or 'they', then 'who' is right. If you get 'him,' 'her' or 'them', then you want 'whom'."

The Readers' Editor has a simpler rule. In practice, "whom" has all but disappeared from spoken English, and seems to be going the same way in most forms of written English, too. If in doubt, use "who". The incorrect use of "whom" looks not just wrong, but wrong and pompous, too.

There are many worse problems over the state of the language. Last week it was reported that many undergraduates can't spell such basic words as "their" , "occurred" and "Wednesday". I know it's true, because I teach some of them.

t After my diatribe last week against those newspapers and others who stigmatise overweight people, ministers announced that it was unfair to tag overweight children as "obese". Later in the week, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said the NHS shouldn't discriminate on obesity grounds, either. But the pleasure dissipated over dinner when an surgeon told me he would still refuse to operate on overweight patients. Hard work, saving lives. But hard to change attitudes, too.

Message Board: Should China be given a chance or taken to task?

As the finishing touches were put to the Olympics in Beijing, readers leapt both to defend and to condemn the host country:

Neil McGowan

I am not going to be "flexible" on human rights merely to suit some vicious communist toerag who has a penchant for throwing the javelin. The whole Olympics hoop-la is a pathetic sham.


Chinese people around the world must unite to resist arrogant and ignorant Westerners from shaming our race and culture. We had thousands of years of civilisation before they came out of the cave.


China has a long way to reach the state that we are in now. I don't mean that we are fully there, but I reckon our people are better off in expressing opinions, with fewer restrictions.


China has improved more lives than any other government on earth in the past 20 years. Its people have an optimism and energy that this country lost decades ago. Why the hell should they "change" anything?


Last week China ran its first Bullet Train, and Shenzhen "legalised" its 12 million migrant workers, a significant step towards ending a major injustice. But what the West read about was internet blocks.

john appleby

You can build all the skyscrapers you like and whore yourself to Western corporations for all you are worth. Until you get the hell out of Tibet, China will always remain a pariah state.

Richard Alexander

I do not see China supporting a regime which incarcerates an entire population in Palestine. What hypocrisy, to fail to see the remarkable progress China has made over the past 60 years.


If Britain punishes China now, we shall be on sticky ground in 2012. Our invasion of Iraq was an abuse of human rights, and, further back in history, our track record was lamentable.

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