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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The winner of Who vs. Whom

I have been happy to watch old episodes of Get Smart since they are getting some airplay in conjunction with the recent movie release. Some things about the old show are interesting. For instance, I was shocked by the more flexible use of racial stereotypes and words that would now be considered slurs (something even emphasized in the title of the show's final episode, I Am Curiously Yellow.) I wanted to pick out some of the parts of that episode in a separate post, but for now this will have to do.

The following is a clip from an episode from their first season called KAOS in Control. Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 are trying to interrogate a suspected KAOS agent. In this scene, Max is the only one who doesn't understand the difference between 'who' and 'whom'.
MAXWELL SMART
OK 99, I think we can start with the interrogation now.

99
Check 86!

MAXWELL SMART
OK Ratchett, start talking!

99
Who pays you?

MAXWELL SMART
Who do you report to?

99
(whispers) Whom.

MAXWELL SMART
Whom?

RATCHETT
Look, I'll tell you everything!

MAXWELL SMART
Just a minute Ratchett. (To 99) Are you sure it's whom, 99?

99
Yeah, I think so because, um, whom is the objective, you see, in view of a preposition.

RATCHETT
(impatient) I would *like* to *make* a *statement*.

MAXWELL SMART
(Facing one direction) Who do you report to? (Facing the other direction) Whom do you report to?

RATCHETT
(Exasperated) It's *whom*.

MAXWELL SMART
It is? Oh! Well, then in that case maybe you can tell me, *whom* had access to the retrogressor!
So you see, the joke is on Max because even when they explain how to use 'whom' he immediately misuses it.

I thought about how hard it must be nowadays to make jokes about the nuances of the English language. There was only one way to resolve this: Search Result Battle!
A search for "Who do you report to"
[http://www.google.com/search?q=%22who+do+you+report+to%22]
yields 10,200 results.

A search for "Whom do you report to"
[http://www.google.com/search?q=%22whom+do+you+report+to%22]
yields 872 results.
So it doesn't look good for 'whom'. Popular opinion sides with Maxwell Smart. Sheepishly I must admit I would have agreed with him too.

If you're interested in the clip, I've attached it below. The particular scene starts at about 0:43.


Update (June 23): My friend Maria summarized the whole article in five words: "Grammar jokes are not in."

3 comments:

j said...

i personally cannot wait for 'eats, shoots & leaves,' the movie.

Daniel Boyd said...

"I am Curiously Yellow" is a reference to a film called "I am Curious (Yellow)" which was the first mainstream film to show an act of sexual intercourse, or so it says in Wikipedia.

Marsha said...

The proper construction, of course, is "To whom do you report?"