“Whom,” chick magnet

From Prof. Geoffrey Pullum (Language Log):

Wired magazine has just published a large-scale statistical study of what correlates with numbers of responses to online dating ads (and let me say here that I am deeply grateful to Charles Hallinan for pointing it out to me). Much of the survey relates to the words used in the ad. For example, mentioning yoga or surfing in your ad has a positive influence on the number of contacts that will result. Some of the discoveries are curious: for men, it is much better to refer to a woman using the word “woman,” but a woman’s ad will do better if she refers to herself as a “girl.” And (the point that has turned my life around, made on the infographic here), it turns out that men who use “whom” get 31% more contacts from opposite-sex respondents.

As someone who has long liked “whom,” I salute this development! True, given modern usage, using “who” as the object of a verb or preposition is pretty fully standard in casual contexts, and is probably getting to be standard in more formal contexts as well; I can’t say that using “who” instead of “whom” is in some objective sense “wrong.” Indeed, using “whom” in some contexts — even in ways that follow historical guidelines about the “who”/”whom” distinction — might be seen as (to quote the Oxford Dictionaries blog) “stuffy or pretentious.” (Imagine a song titled, “Whom Do You Love?“) But if the study reported by Wired is right, “whom” is more effective in this particular context, likely because it’s perceived as a marker of education and social status. And these days, geek is chic, and Bo Diddley, not so much.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy. Before coming to UCLA, he clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court and for Judge Alex Kozinski on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Volokh is the author of the textbooks The First Amendment and Related Statutes (4th ed. 2011), The Religion Clauses and Related Statutes (2005), and Academic Legal Writing (4th ed. 2010), as well as over 70 law review articles. Volokh is also an Academic Affiliate for the Mayer Brown LLP law firm.
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Eugene Volokh | February 12