June 10, 2005

Some Questions

Why isn't 'whomself' a word?

Wouldn't "we were discussing who threw whomself at whom" be a great sentence, if 'whomself' were a word?

Or should it be 'whomselves'?

Is there a language in which 'whomself' is a word?

Can I start speaking that language instead?

Is the reflexive of singular 'they' 'themself' or 'themselves', anyway?

Posted by Matt Weiner at June 10, 2005 01:41 PM

"Themselves". I don't see what gap "whomself" would fill, frankly. "We were discussing who threw whomself at whom" doesn't really make sense to me.

Posted by: ben wolfson at June 10, 2005 02:31 PM

Really? You really don't understand what it's supposed to mean at all?

As the question (or embedded wh-clause)

Who threw what at whom

is derived from the sentence

Person1 threw thing2 at person3

so is

Who threw whomself at whom

derived from

Person1 threw person1 at person2.

IOW, it's what speakers of--I think the technical term for the dialect is "boring-English"--would mean when they said "who threw themselves at whom."

And yeah, in boring-English singular 'they' behaves like a plural, I'm pretty sure. That also seems suboptimal.

(About linguistic analyses--as usual, you might do well to ask someone with more linguistic training.)

[PS, phoo, no subscripts in comments.]

Posted by: Matt Weiner at June 10, 2005 04:17 PM

I understand that with "Who threw whomself at whom" you expect an answer of the type "A threw A at B". But it sounds horribly, horribly wrong, as if there ought to be three people involved but there's a reflexive term that doesn't correspond to either of the other two so who the hell is that?

I would ask that question "Who threw himself at whom" (if I were feeling neandertalish), or perhaps "who threw him or herself at whom", or, if full of sodium pentathol, "who threw themself at whom" (but I wouldn't be able to respect myself in the morning).

Posted by: ben wolfson at June 11, 2005 01:06 PM

Exactly the reactions I'd expect from a speaker of boring-English.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at June 11, 2005 01:38 PM

It's only boring-English I write. In speech I'm an unrestrained beatnik. A veritable speech-poet.

Posted by: ben wolfson at June 11, 2005 01:47 PM

I myself have always liked the phrase "up with whom you've hooked."

Posted by: andalusia caltanisetta at June 11, 2005 05:52 PM

Aren't you already speaking that language if you choose to use "whomself?" And does a language become a different one with every new word that is added? If this is the case then no one is really speaking the same language. Which is what I've pretty much suspected all along.

Posted by: Sarah at June 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Along those lines, "amn't" is a contraction that I believe, following patterns of grammar, should exist. Is there a reason, other than the fact that it is difficult to pronounce, that we do not use it?


"Am I not going to work tomorrow?" (Yet, to contract, we say "Aren't I...")

Posted by: ts1 at June 12, 2005 09:28 AM