There are writing rules that we must never break (like using a serial comma), and there are writing rules that are meant to be broken (or dismissed altogether). Part of being a good writer is to know when to break the rules and when to embrace them.
I am a writer in the legal industry, which means that I work with a lot of highly educated, verbose, and technical people. It is my job to take the concepts that these people wish to communicate and shape them into something that an average Joe could understand.
Doing so involves a lot of energy, but after awhile, you get the hang of it. Especially after having spent four years in the trenches and passing your knowledge on to your burgeoning content team.
Recently, one of said team members wrote a blog post about some rather complicated legal process for the general public. Blog posts usually have a lighter tone and style than, say, an article. Aside from social posts, they’re the most casual form of content that we write at my place of employment.
When he sent it to me for review, he had left a comment highlighting the use of “who” in the post, noting that he was aware it should technically be “whom”, but that it threw off the rest of the piece and made it sound pretentious. He said he would change it if I wanted him to.
But he was right, the proper use of “whom’ would have been jarring to the reader, causing them to stagger and interrupting the otherwise smooth flow of the content.
“Leave it out,” I said. “Whom is dead.”
So, he published the post as usual and continued his day as usual. For about five minutes.
One of our subscribers had, seemingly, read the post as soon as it appeared in their email inbox, apparently eager to read content that could quite possibly bore a rock to death.
Not only had she read the post, she had left a comment. Regarding—you guessed it—our misuse of “who”. She explained to us (a team of professional writers) that we had made a typo and proceeded to teach us when to use “who” and when to use “whom”. Shame on us.
As you can imagine, we were very thankful (we weren’t).
Though our hearts wanted to reply with a touch of sass, we curbed our desires and explained why we had used “who” instead of “whom”, letting her know that in modern content, especially for online readers, it is often accepted as a style choice as opposed to a hard and fast rule. She didn’t respond.
“Whom” just happens to be another casualty in the transition from print content to digital content; the formal to the informal; the standard practice to the trend. A rule that is becoming something to be broken instead of followed.
May “whom” rest in peace, along with double-spacing after periods and (much to my personal dismay) cursive writing.