Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

Valentine’s Day celebrates love. Love, it’s been said, makes the world go ‘round. Love also makes the ride worthwhile.

Love is a many-splendored thing, and so is the English language. How do we love thee, English? Let us count the ways. Today we’ll count 18 ways that the word love hides in our vocabulary. Using the definitions below, identify each word that starts with love, that is, the letters l-o-v-e:

1. attractive 2. a popular old television series 3. a sofa for two people 4. mushy, expressing love sentimentally 5. bereft of love

Now using the definitions that follow, identify each word with love in its heart:

6. a sweetheart 7. covering for the hand 8. a plant that can be luck in its four-leaf version 9. a seasoning 10. a film in which Peter Sellers plays three roles

11. divided, especially a foot 12. a garment 13. sloppy 14. shore bird 15. the overturning of a vehicle

16. a shore bird 17. a plant in the snapdragon family 18. federated republic of Yugoslavia

Answers

1. lovely 2. “The Loveboat” 3. loveseat 4. lovey dovey 5. lovelorn

6. beloved 7. glove 8. clover 9. clove 10. “Dr. Strangelove”

11. cloven 12. pullover 13. slovenly 14. plover 15. rollover

16. plover 17. foxglove 18. Slovenia

In a “Nancy” comic strip, the frizzy-haired heroine writes a letter that begins, “To who it may concern . . .” The worried Nancy then crosses out the who and changes it to whome, and then to whoom. With a frustrated “Grrr!” she finally settles on the salutation “Dear you all.”

In a “Peanuts” episode, an open-eyed Charlie Brown is thinking, “Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask, ‘Is it all worth it?’ Then a voice says, ‘Who are you talking to?’ Then another voice says, ‘You mean, ‘To who are you talking?”‘ No wonder I lie awake at night!”

More than 60 years ago, Professor Arthur H. Weston composed this ditty:

It’s hard to devise an appropriate doom

For those who say who when they ought to say whom.

But it’s even more hard to decide what to do

With those who say whom when they ought to say who.

Times have changed. Author Calvin Trillin claims that “whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler. Nobody who is not a butler has ever said it out loud without feeling just a little bit weird.”

William Safire announced the doom of whom. Quoth the maven: “Look: I’ve never pretended to have a handle on who-whom. Let us resolve to follow Safire’s Rule on Who-Whom: whenever whom sounds correct, recast the sentence.”

When I am asked for who the bell tolls, I answer, “It tolls for whom!” Whom may one day disappear entirely – but not yet, at least not yet in formal writing. When the pronoun is used as a subject or predicate nominative (linked to a subject by a verb such as is), the form should be who. When the pronoun is used as an object – direct, indirect or of a preposition – the correct word in formal writing is whom. You see, it’s not who you know. It’s whom you know!

If the pronoun can be replaced by he or she, the correct word is who. “I know he did it” = “I know who did it.” If the pronoun can be replaced by him or her, the correct word is whom: “Do you trust her?” = “Whom do you trust?”

Thinking that whom is a sign of superior grammar and breeding, a semiliterate snob in “A Thurber Carnival” asks, “Whom do you think you are, anyways?” Demonstrating its skittishness about the who/whom confusion, a Connecticut newspaper hedges its bet with this sentence: “Mr. Beeston said he was asked to step down, although it was not known exactly who or whom asked him.” I’ll bet on who, the subject of the verb asked in the noun clause “who asked him.”

All this industrial-strength grammar notwithstanding, you can usually ignore whom in speech without raising many eyebrows, except where a preposition immediately precedes the pronoun. But in formal writing, you will want to use both who and whom. Maybe one day the old pronoun whom will kick the grammatical bucket. Until then, why not show this venerable word some respect?