Like all languages, English is full to the brim with arbitrary rules.
This would be fine if it were not for the fuck-awful word nerds who go about correcting other people’s grammar and usage; captious, snobbish individuals who dedicate their spare time to learning all of these rules and then feel it necessary to impose unnecessary guidelines on others.
A lot of the rules that these people have learnt are utterly pointless and do not stand up to inspection. It is for this reason that I thought we could go through some of the most prominent of these, let’s call them the Big Five, so that the next time some patronising, weak-chinned word nerd decides to tell you that, “It is whom, dear boy, not who…”, you can come back with, “Actually, motherfucker, it’s who. And here’s why…”
The notion that people communicate incorrectly is ridiculous; you’ve been doing it all your life and you’ve been doing just fine. Clarity is all that should matter. If what you have said is easily intelligible, and you succeed in getting your point across, then you have achieved your goal. Everything else is window dressing. Elegance would be nice; brevity even better. But clarity is key. Fuck what the Nerds say.
WHO vs WHOM
Nobody likes hangers-on. A great night out can be taken too far. The party has finished, the sun has come up, and it is just you and the person you go to bed with is left in the flat. Oh, and the annoying guy who won’t go home and keeps saying that you should open another bottle of wine, or order another gram, and continue to discuss the structural issues of the European Union. That guy, that annoying, clingy, limpet of a man, is whom.
Whom is the object form of who. For instance, “Whom did you have sex with?” Whom is the object that you, the subject, had sex with.
However, there also used to be a native form of who – wham. Dative is the case that marks out the recipient of a noun. “Who did you give chlamydia to?” should read, if we are following all the rules of who, “Wham did you give chlamydia?”
Nobody says that because there is no need. Wham has died out. It has been purged from the English language. It has gone home. Whom needs to do the same; no sentence becomes clearer with the use of the word whom. It is for nerdy, faux-intellectuals who were told this nonsense by sweaty public school English professors famous for their love of molestation. Who do we trust? Not them.
AND I vs AND ME
We are told that we should not say, “Ravi and me went to the massage parlour” because me is not a subject. As in you would not say, “Me went to the massage parlour”. However, this rule does not stand up to even the most cursory inspection.
It goes back to a man named Robert Lowth – some cunt of a bishop who lived during the 1700’s. Lowth decided that English should be more like Latin. Which is like deciding that a banana should be more like an onion. They are both strange and interesting and useful in their own way. However, neither is better, and certainly, neither should aspire to be like the other. Lowth was too busy not washing, listening to Bach, and discussing the Seven Years War to realise this. Latin always has its subject pronouns (I, we, she) in subject pronoun positions. In English, we do not do this.
If at a party you were asked, “Who broke the toilet?” You would point at the culprits and say, “Them”. Them is not the subject form. They is the subject form. But no fucker would point at the culprits and say, “They”.
Just as the answer to the question, “Who brought the lubricant?” Is, “Me”. Not, “I”. Nobody would stand there and say “I”.
Children do not say, “Rebecca and I stole some sweets.” Kids don’t talk like that. All kids would say, “Rebecca and me stole some sweets.” It is intuitive, it works, and most importantly, there is no lack of clarity. And me is absolutely fine. Lowth and me disagree on this, but he can fuck off.
“I cannot go no further…”
We are told this sentence is wrong. However, many languages have double negatives. The Spaniards out there will know this; as will the Russians, the Italians, and many other nationalities. In fact, double negatives used to be standard in English. That quote at the top, “I cannot go no further”, that’s not something that I heard some kid say this morning, those words are spoken by Celia in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. A play written in the most formal, standard English of the time.
Part of this is down to our old friend Lowth. He decided that as two negatives make a positive in maths, the same should be true in English. However, Maths and English have many differences. Maths nerds don’t get laid, for instance. Whereas English nerds don’t get laid, but at least we can write shit poems about it, lamenting our physical inadequacies.
It is a rule perpetuated by old, bespectacled matrons who insist on playing logical word games. “You did not see nothing? Well, if nothing is what you saw then this leads to you must having seen something.” Fuck you, old lady. Life’s too short.
Formal English used to be fine with double negatives, all colloquial forms of English have double negatives as it helps to add emphasis, and the use of them does not impede clarity. In fact, it is the people who quibble over these things who create confusion; and in doing so they display a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of language. I don’t care what no fucker says, double negatives are fine.
Splitting infinitives are when you put an adverb between to and the verb. The famous example, and apt for an issue on Nerds, is the mission statement proclaimed at the start of each Star Trek episode: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” That boldly is splitting an infinitive.
As you can see from reading that sentence, and from generations of Nerds watching Star Trek and not being completely baffled by it, there is no real problem with splitting infinitives.
This particular rule is kept alive by people who are desperate to come across as erudite but possess little or no knowledge to help them in that quest. They therefore roll out this platitude as it sounds lofty and complex. More than any other example on this list it is the one that marks out its speaker as idiotic and desperate. Just as when somebody shouts at a football match, “Wow! He kicked a great goal there!” the people around him instantly understand that they are dealing with a layman. It is a simplistic rendering of a complex issue.
Splitting Infinitives is fine, as long as you do not put too great a distance between them; when that happens, clarity may suffer: “To furiously and effectively, but not always happily, and certainly not romantically, masturbate.” Too much is going on there, and people may lose the thread of the sentence. “To furiously masturbate”, however, is perfectly fine. I strongly believe this.
DON’T END A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION
Prepositions deal with space and time. They create relationships between words: I passed out in the pub, I threw up on her shoes, I woke up near the docks. In school, we are taught not to leave these words dangling at the end of sentences. Why we are taught this, I have little idea. John Milton wrote Paradise Lost, pound for pound one of the greatest works of art that this nation has created, and he was just fine with dangling prepositions.
If you were to follow this rule to the letter then you would end up alone, with three cats that you found on the street, eating cold baked beans out of the tin, arguing with thirteen-year-olds on twitter. “Which draw are the condoms in?” will lead to a healthy sex life. The supposedly more grammatically correct sentence, “In which drawer do you keep the condoms?” will not. Get out of my bed, Nerd.
As always, clarity is key. The next time some smug cunt who spends his time writing shit film reviews for his blog and getting hard over Studio Ghibli characters tells you that it is not, “Who do I give the Ben Wa balls to?”, but rather, “To whom do I give the Ben Wa balls?”, just pull him to one side and let him know that his life is on a path to crushing, all-consuming loneliness. Leaving prepositions at the end of sentences very rarely affects clarity, and it is a rule we no longer need to talk about.
The myth that people who went to expensive schools, wear Ralph Lauren jumpers, and talk like the queen are somehow speaking “correctly”, and everybody else is doing it wrong, is utter bullshit; anybody with a passing interest in linguistics will attest to this. Language is a continuum, and outside of mistakes that genuinely obscure or change meaning (which are very few and far between) there is no right or wrong way to speak – only what is in vogue from one time to another or one place to the next. Trust me, you’re doing just fine. In short: fuck the word nerds.