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Whom abuse – and David Cassidy

November 24, 2017

I was reading David Cassidy’s obituary in The Times yesterday. For someone of my age it is very sad to see all these 70s icons being harvested by the Grim Reaper. And David Cassidy led a tragic life; an archetypal casualty of stardom that came too soon. I thought the obituary missed out on the principal reason for Cassidy’s success, which was that he had a deep, breathy, masculine singing voice, startlingly at odds with his fey, delicate appearance.

But I digress. I have a grammar point to make. In the obituary I came across this sentence: “He admitted struggling to gain the approval of his father, whom he suggested became ‘tormented’ when his son became more famous than him”.

Whom? Take out he suggested, and what do we have? Whom became tormented – which is equivalent to saying him became tormented. Nobody would say him became tormented, except perhaps Little Plum in the Beano.

When someone uses whom these days they are making a sort of statement. They are saying “Look at me, I understand the intricacies of English grammar!” When they get it wrong, it’s embarrassing: like watching someone attempting a pirouette and falling flat on their face. It’s also distracting. I wanted to read about David Cassidy’s life, not get sidetracked into thinking about grammar.

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4 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Don’t see this one too often but it’s surprising how many people confuse who’s with whose.

  2. That is true, they do; and I will pounce on it next time I see it.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Whomsoever may be responsible.
    The Robshaw Pounce sounds like a killer move.

  4. Mark Brafield permalink

    Not directly a grammatical point, but this raises an interesting contrast of tone and register as between the singer and the writer of the obituary. I watched a documentary about David Cassidy a few years ago, and had forgotten how intense was the hysteria surrounding him, so much so, of course, that he retired from public performance when just aged 23 or 24 when a fan was killed in the crush of the crowds.

    However, I learned from the documentary that, precisely because he had a strong, masculine voice, it was digitally altered (as we would call it nowadays) in order to make his voice sound younger, and so to appeal more to his target audience of pubescent teenage girls.

    So here we have the pop singer trying to sound younger and more innocent than he was, and the obituary writer trying to sound more grown-up and sophisticated. What a strange world we live in.

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