Part of a series, a long series, on how the English are ruining our language
I’ve been off work for a while with a mysterious fatigue that nobody can diagnose, so I’ve been neglecting this blog, and binge-reading Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels, of which there are more than seventy-five, and most of which Penguin is publishing in new translations. (Of which I can check out numerous e-books from the New York Public Library, but availability depends on the app I use on my tablet. The library’s official app, SimplyE, is terrible. Just look at the reviews it gets. Library management clearly hasn’t. I use Libby and 3M Cloud Library, but I’m not sure they give me access to everything.)
The translators are English (or, at any rate, British), and they display many of the crimes of modern schooling in Great Britain (against the language, that is—I have no idea about any others, at least not for the purposes of this blog).
Here’s one example, or at least a partial example, from Maigret in Court (originally, Maigret aux assizes). (There are worse ones, but I’ve just come across this one, and made a note of it.)
We’ve been told for years that the objective form of who, that is, whom, is obsolescent, and is no longer required in good writing. How, then, is one to account for the following sentence (a quotation from Detective Chief Inspector Maigret)?
Find out where she has lunch and who with, who she talks to, whether she makes any phone calls, and if so, to whom.
Let me point out, first of all, that French does not distinguish between the objective and subjective who. They are both qui. I don’t have this novel in French (I do have some Maigret novels in French, but I can read them only by the sweat of my brow, with a translation and a French-English dictionary handy); but I’m pretty confident that, in the original French, the sentence just quoted uses the same word (qui) for all the people referred to. That is, I’m pretty confident that the choice of who and whom belonged to the translator, one Ros Schwartz.
Why does Schwartz bother with that final “whom“?
I think it’s just a vague sense that to needs a whom after it. Properly (historically, for all you anti-prescriptionists out there), all those whos should be whoms. They are all objects, either of verbs or of prepositions. That would really require the translator to write in a formal register, and accordingly not to end clauses with prepositions. She (I think “Ros” is a girl’s name) would have had to have written,
Find out where she has lunch and with whom, to whom she talks, whether she makes any phone calls, and if so, to whom.
(I would also have written, “whether or not she makes any phone calls”, but that’s just me.)
That would be a correct sentence, but perhaps a bit stilted and old-fashioned. The more modern alternative (in a more colloquial register) ought to be
Find out where she has lunch and who with, who she talks to, whether she makes any phone calls, and if so, who to.
But because the translator doesn’t know any rules (descriptive, prescriptive, or what-have-you), she just follows her feelings, and ends up with a mixed sentence that’s not correct in any register.