So I’m in McDonalds and on CNN there’s this gay governor stepping down and giving a speech and he says,
To be clear, I am not apologizing for being a gay American, but rather, for having let personal feelings impact my decision-making and for not having had the courage to be open about whom I was.
“whom I was?” I think. “That’s a weird hypercorrection. That’s the sort of thing that Language Log is constantly blogging about, till I can’t stand it anymore and I have to take them out of my newsreader yet again to get away from their nonstop stream of obsessive consideration of trivial mistakes.”
Huh… what do you know.
Actually Language Log doesn’t look it at it as a hypercorrection to “whom” from “who” on the general basis that “whom is correct,” it looks at this as a general pattern of error, with a number of other instances documented on the net.
That’s kind of interesting — I think that both are involved. Because using “whom” instead of “who” is not natural to most Americans’ speech anymore, it’s done on a semi-conscious basis instead of completely effortlessly as is the case with really natural grammar. Because it’s semi-conscious it’s prone more to cheap heuristic shortcuts based on surface appearance rather than deep grammatical insight.
And “about whom” is, if you look at those two words isolated, a place where “whom” is often correct — “about whom you were talking” is correct. Indeed, “about whom you are….” is correct as long as there’s a present active participle following it whose object is “whom.” But if there’s no such participle, “about whom you are” or “about whom I was” is not correct.
But I think the “correcting impulse” which leads to the former correct correction also leads to the latter incorrect hypercorrection.
If this weren’t a situation where people were correcting themselves in the first place, such a hypercorrection would never occur, I bet.