Spell Checking and the Whom Nazis

by Jeff Abbott on October 15, 2008

First up: my talk last night on villains to the Austin RWA group seemed to go really well. The RWA group was an absolute delight and they seem to have a lot more chocolate on hand than mystery writers’ meetings do. Romance author Farrah Rochon gives me a shout-out for my presentation. I’m giving the same speech Saturday in Houston for MWA. And that will pretty much end my speeches for the year.
One of my least favorite chores is running a manuscript through Microsoft Word’s spell and grammar checker. Mostly this is because so much of a book is dialogue, and names, and it can take up to an hour or so for the whole check to run. But I am always amused by the typos that creep into my drafts, often from my fast typing. I like to assign meanings to my funnier mistyped words:
equestion–what you ask a horse
ccare–when you care twice as much at the beginning, less so at the end
purpel–what Prinse would wear
And my favorite moment of the check is when Word helpfully suggests “whom” instead of “who”. I will rewrite a sentence a dozen times to avoid “whom“. No one uses it in dialogue, ever, but if it’s the gramatically correct choice and I don’t use it, I suffer the outrage of the Whom Nazi. A Whom Nazi will write me an email taking me to task for having an uneducated gangster, or a person who is in the middle of being victimized in a brutal crime, or a small child use “who” instead of “whom”.
I quit caring what Whom Nazis thought long ago, but I will let them know this: if I don’t use whom, it’s not because I don’t know what the rules of grammar are. It’s because I’m breaking them, on purpose, for the sake of realism. Let’s face it: a gunman uses “whom” in the middle of a fight scene, the reader’s going to laugh and possibly set the book aside. (That would not hold true if I have established the gunman was a grammar teacher before turning to violence.) Yet I have had Whom Nazis suggest that a character should use whom in their thoughts, or while surviving the worst moment of their lives, or while being assaulted.
Grammar is important, of course. It makes the sentences understandable. But it cannot trump the realism of how people think and talk.

    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    Kirk October 15, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Well, I could think of the possibility of having a character who would say “whom” in such a situation. That would have to be a specific character trait, of course. Think Brother Mouzone in The Wire:
    Brother Mouzone is the guy with the bow-tie, if you don’t know the series.
    Here’s another example of his character:
    And the last line in that video is quite astute…

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