Let’s Get Rid of Whomever!

It’s time to address the elephant in the room: the word whomever, and its rampant incorrect usage. The linguists call it “hypercorrection,” using something that sounds more correct, but isn’t.

I used to think it was just people who were trying to appear smarter who used whomever, but the other day when I saw the word used incorrectly twice in one sentence in the newspaper, I thought, this problem has reached epidemic proportions!

It was something like “Whomever plans to run for office, and whomever needs to register to vote….” Are you kidding me? I know we’re just a small semi-rural area in the Midwest, but I do expect our reporters to understand the English language.

The fact is, whoever is the appropriate form when it is the subject of the sentence or clause. Whomever is the object form.

Some people seem to think that whomever lends dignity or formality, like Whereas in a proclamation.  But “Whoever made this mess needs to clean it up” is correct, whether you’re talking about the kids in the kitchen or the politicians in Washington, D.C.  So is, “I would like to thank whoever voted for that bill.”

Here’s an example of the incorrect usage of whomever that’s been weighing heavily on me for a while:

On an email from a fellow book-club member: “I wonder if I could trade with whomever is next.”  The writer had good intentions and tbought she was using correct grammar.  But she was hyper correcting.

Here are two examples of the correct usage of whomever:

“I will welcome whomever you invite to dinner.”

Whomever the people choose will be our next representative.”

Still, while the grammar is correct, I would be perfectly happy with whoever in both cases.  And I really wouldn’t mind getting rid of whomever altogether.  It would keep things simple and solve the hypercorrection problem.

I hope that whoever is reading this will think twice before using the word whomever. Ever.


Reading Henry James in Retirement

I’m reading Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. My friend Shannon, who almost got a PhD in English literature, tells me not to bother with it.

“You don’t have to do that,” she says.

I know I don’t have to, but the thing is, I want to. I really want to, and I try to explain to her why.

First, I find that I love reading the classics in my old age. Since I turned sixty, which was a while ago, I’ve discovered the pleasures of D. H. Lawrence, Somerset Maugham, Thomas Hardy and Mark Twain, among others. These were all authors I was encouraged if not forced to read as a young student, as they were canonized as the best, the must-reads.

I don’t like to be told what to read, though. And also, in college I was discovering other things besides literature—living away from home in a city, in a dormitory where friends were available 24/7, and just beginning to date.  (I told you I was a late bloomer.)   And I had homework, lots of reading in textbooks. How could a nineteenth-century novel be a pleasure to read after all that?

Those excerpts of long-ago and just plain long novels presented in thick anthologies printed in the smallest type on the thinnest of tissue paper were a chore to read at that time in my life. I didn’t care. They were wasted on the young me.

But now that I’m retired, I have the time to read—and the inclination. The classics interest me now. I am fascinated by what those people were thinking, and how they expressed themselves. I enjoy puzzling out James’s long, looping sentences—so different from the fragments we use today.  I like being surprised by similarities between me and one of Lawrence’s heroines. I like reading these books.

So I’m reading a chapter a day of Portrait. Mind you, I have to tackle it in the morning, when I am having a cup of coffee and feeling fresh. Sometimes one paragraph is a page long!  I could never read writing such as this at the end of the day, in bed.

But I have these blessed mornings now, with no work or school to rush to. I have the luxury I didn’t have when I was younger of opening a book that holds, for me, treasures of language and culture, intriguing descriptions and ideas from the past.   IMG_20171011_131349979IMG_20171011_131243351img_20171011_131321837_hdr.jpgIt’s such a pleasure.

How Do You Like My Hashtags?

I just posted something on Facebook and included several hashtags. This is new for me. I had to go back and edit them when I realized you don’t put any spaces between the words!

How weird is that?  And why?

Well anyway, I did it, and I can’t believe it.  These things go against the conventions of the English language as I’ve known them, and taught them.

And yet . . . I am fascinated by hashtags, and all the changes in the language that have resulted from our use of technological devices.  I have changed along with everyone else.

On texts, for example, I don’t always use periods or capital letters.  Yes, I feel guilty–but I’m in a hurry, so why bother?  Does it really matter?

I still use complete sentences, with punctuation, in my emails.  Well, except I’ve noticed lately how often I omit the subject pronoun in my sentences:  “Got your email.  Hope you’re doing well.  Don’t have time right now for a long reply.”  Emoji emoji, send.

And now hashtags are occurring naturally to me, in the same way that new words heard by young children begin to pop naturally out of their mouths, or new slang expressions, after you’ve heard them used for a while, are suddenly not only used by you, but seem like the only possible way to express that thought or feeling.

I’ve observed people’s hashtags for a while now on Facebook; I’ve been intrigued and entertained by them.  There’s something very amusing about a short narrative with a hashtag or two attached, like afterthoughts or side remarks.

So today I tried it myself, and I’m not sure how well I did, but I liked doing it!

#alwaysalinguist #nevertooold



Go! Mrs. Go!–a Korean Drama

house and Namhae scarf 2016 012

My Namhae souvenir bandana

I will watch anything halfway decent in Korean in order to keep up my skill—such as it is—in that language. So I was delighted when I heard about Go! Mrs. Go! My sister said that she and her family were watching and enjoying this Korean drama, or TV series. I was surprised. They’ve been to Japan, and they love things Japanese, but Japan is not Korea.  It must be pretty good for them to like it.

It turned out to be a really good series, which I loved for several reasons, not just the language practice. (Note: There are subtitles, and I use them.)

First, Mrs. Go lives in Namhae, an island to the south of Korea. It’s a beautiful place, and I’ve been there. When I taught English in South Korea in 2000 at Chungwoon University, the faculty took a trip to Namhae. I fell in love with the place because of the beautiful views of the sea.

On the show, the main character, Go Bong Sil, lives in a lovely house there, with a greenhouse where she raises flowers. When her husband dies suddenly, her life changes and she has to figure out how to survive. She is a strong and kind woman. Through her kindness, she takes in a homeless South American man. When he leaves, he gives her a gift of seeds. They sprout and she makes a tea from them which proves to be rejuvenating to a lot of people, almost magical.

Bong Sil decides to move to Seoul, to the Itaewon district. There her adventures, good and bad, continue.

Maybe Bong Sil is a little too good to be true—kind to everyone, honest to a fault. She feeds everyone, always thinks of others, and is always instinctively helpful. Most of all, she has integrity.

But there are people like this, and I admire this fictional woman so much.

She gets to open her own restaurant in Itaewon. We see her cooking, and we learn a lot about Korean dishes. She cooks delicious and healthy food. She knows the health benefits of the various fresh ingredients she uses.

This is not unusual in Korea. One thing that struck me, when I lived there, was that the food was both delicious and healthy at the same time. It didn’t have to be a choice between the two.

South Korea is a traditional society, although it is changing as the whole world changes. Still, when I was there it was unheard of for a couple to show affection in public. This is shown in the drama Go! Mrs. Go!

On the other hand, one of the characters is a transgender female. Her story is touching, and she is portrayed in a very human, respectful way. That was something that surprised me, too, about this Korean drama.

I got hooked on it and found myself binge-watching Go! Mrs. Go! Now I’m looking for another good Korean drama, one that, like this one, appeals not just to youth but to older people too. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

The Shared World

Do you like poetry?  I do.  For me, it doesn’t have to rhyme; it doesn’t have to be difficult to understand.  This weekend I was at a spiritual retreat, and the director shared some poems with us, two by Mary Oliver, and this one that I want to share with you.  It’s a lovely narrative poem, and so timely.

Shared Words, Shared Worlds

by Naomi Shihab Nye

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,

I heard the announcement:

If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,

Please come to the gate immediately.

Well–one pauses these days.  Gate 4-A was my own gate.  I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,

Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person.  Talk to her.  What is her

Problem?  We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.

Shu dow-a, shu-biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew–however poorly used–she stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.

She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the following day.  I said no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up?  Let’s call him and tell him.

We called her son and I spoke with him in English.

I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her–Southwest.

She talked to him.  Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and

Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian

Poets I know and let them chat with her.  This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then.  Telling about her life.  Answering


She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies–little powdered

Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts–out of her bag–

And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one.  It was like a

Sacrament.  The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,

The lovely woman from Laredo–we were all covered with the same

Powdered sugar.  And smiling.  There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers–

Non-alcoholic–and the two little girls for our flight, one African

American, one Mexican American–ran around serving us all apple juice

And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend–by now we were holding hands–

Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves.  Such an old country traveling tradition.  Always

Carry a plant.  Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,

This is the world I want to live in.  The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate–once the crying of confusion stopped–has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies.I wanted to hug all those other women too.

This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Abraham Lincoln Walks in Springfield

State Capitol Building, Springfield, IL

State Capitol Building, Springfield, IL

We went to Springfield, Illinois, this weekend, spending one night at the State House Inn, near the Capitol.

Capitol building from hotel
We had a package that included tickets to the Lincoln Museum, as well as a free drink at the hotel and a $10 discount at a nearby restaurant, which we didn’t use.
The Lincoln Museum is an amazing and creative historical display guaranteed to stir the imagination. There’s a lifelike replica of the Lincoln family greeting the visitor, with other personages of the time standing nearby. Pictures are allowed here, and in the first room, which contains replicas of gowns worn by first ladies to their husbands’ inaugural balls.

Lincoln family at museum entrance

Lincoln family at museum entrance

Mrs. Lincoln getting dressed for the ball

Mrs. Lincoln getting dressed for the inaugural ball

ball gown for another first lady

ball gown for another first lady

There is plenty of information in this museum, but the ways of transmitting it are various—from a hall filled with political cartoons, some cleverly mounted at a slant, with whispers in the atmosphere of what people were saying about the President at the time. There are whole rooms recreating scenes from Lincoln’s life. One room has his noisy children making a mess while Lincoln lies on the couch reading the paper. Another, very touching scene portrays the Lincolns’ dying son Willy in his bed, his mother next to him, Lincoln at the door, while music from a White House reception plays in the background. An animated map in another room shows the progress of the Civil War in four minutes. A movie and a holographic presentation were lively and interesting for us. History really comes alive here!

team of rivals

Team of rivals

We stayed at the museum for over two hours and could have stayed longer, but it was closing time. Walking back to our hotel, though, we continued to enjoy the historical sights. Lincoln is everywhere in Springfield! I jokingly said it reminded me of Memphis, where everywhere you go there’s an Elvis!

sculpture in front of Lincoln-Herndon law office

Sculpture in front of Lincoln-Herndon law office

Abe and me

Abe and me










The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, a nice free breakfast with lots of choices. We checked out and went to tour the Dana-Thomas House, a Frank Lloyd Wright design.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana-Thomas House

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House

Although it was first a private home for a woman named Susan Lawrence Dana in the early 1900s, and then served as an office building for Thomas Publishing, the house has since been restored to its original, pristine state, an excellent example of Wright’s Prairie style. So no touching, no sitting on any of the Wright-designed chairs, and no pictures We took a few on the outside, though, at the entrance and in the lovely courtyard.

Entrance, Dana-Thomas House, with tour guide

Entrance, Dana-Thomas House, with tour guide              In courtyard, Dana-Thomas House

In courtyard, Dana-Thomas House


Governor's Mansion

After that, we drove a few blocks to catch a glimpse of the Governor’s mansion on Edwards Street. The house is being revamped; it looks like maybe a new roof is under construction. I cropped out the scaffolding in my photos, and the barriers in the street, to get a more idyllic view. Pictures of the landscaping needed no such tinkering; it’s flat-out gorgeous

Governor's mansion, Springfield, IL

Governor’s mansion, Springfield, IL

All of the historic sites are in close proximity. We didn’t get to the Lincoln home, but before we left town, we took a look at the house of poet Vachel Lindsay. A sign outside the house includes a copy of his 1930 poem, “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” in his own handwriting.

Vachel Lindsay home

Vachel Lindsay home

"Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight," Vachel Lindsay, 1930

“Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” Vachel Lindsay, 1930

I’ll never be accused of being a history buff, but visiting these places in Springfield definitely made me want to learn more!


“Like” as in “Hate”?

The word “Like” is a simple one—short, clear, unambiguous, nice. That is, it used to be, until Facebook. On Facebook, that word is an action that can be taken in response to someone’s comment or photo. I’m sure everyone reading this has done it a thousand times. I know I have.  And, it seems to me the word “Like” in this setting has a multitude of meanings.

1)the simple one—I like this;
2)this is okay, not great, but okay;
3)I don’t know you well, but I’m enjoying your family pictures;
4)I don’t know what to say about this;
5)I don’t agree with you, but I don’t want to argue;
6)I can’t believe you posted that; what’s wrong with you?
7)it must be nice to take all those vacations (I’m jealous!);
8)I don’t know what you’re talking about;
9)I wish you’d stop posting this crap;
10)get a life;
11)I’m very close to unfriending you;

Am I right, or am I too cynical? Let me know—or if you don’t want to let me know what you really think, just “Like” this post!