This Pronoun Will Make You Irresistible to Women

A Blog About Language
Feb. 19 2014 10:37 AM

This Pronoun Will Make You Irresistible to Women

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Earlier this month, Wired magazine published "How to Create the Perfect Online Dating Profile, in 25 Infographics," a large-scale statistical study of which words and phrases correlate with high numbers of responses to online dating ads. For example, mentioning "yoga" or "surfing" in your ad was found to have a positive influence on the number of contacts that will result. For men, it is much better to refer to a woman using the word "woman," but a woman's ad will do better if she refers to herself as a "girl." Most interesting to me, however, was that men who use "whom" get 31% more contacts from opposite-sex respondents.

Whoa! This changes everything. And I'm talking just to the men from this point on. First off, should you care to know the ins-and-outs of whom, here's a synopsis of the relevant linguistic principles:

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  • The accusative form whom should never be used as the subject of a finite clause; that is the role reserved for the nominative who.
  • Whom should always be used when a preposition immediately precedes it (as in the person to whom it was sent), and, except in very informal style, the same is true when a verb immediately precedes it (You saw whom?).
  • Where a relative clause modifying a noun of human gender is formed with the gap in a non-subject position, formal style requires whom as the relative pronoun: thus the person whom they hired or the person whom I told you about.
  • Formal style calls for whom as the human-gender interrogative word where it has non-subject function (Whom did they hire?), though this is rare in conversation and could sound a bit pompous.
  • In cases where a relative or interrogative human-class pronoun is associated with subject function in a subordinate clause that is not the main clause in which it is preposed, usage is divided, but many prescriptive authorities regard whom as incorrect; they would recommend the person who the police thought was responsible rather than the person whom the police thought was responsible, as the relative pronoun is understood as the subject of was responsible (even though it is not the subject of the whole relative clause, the police thought was responsible).

OK, so you're probably just now waking up from the nap you took after falling asleep during the third bullet point. But never mind, fellas, because here's the best part: None of this complicated crap makes the slightest bit of difference! You see, Wired didn't check the syntactic contexts. They simply counted whoms.

In other words, it doesn't matter whether you use whom correctly! In general, women don't know about the proper rules for whom any more than men do. Sure, they're interested in seeking out intelligent men to have sex with. And the idea of breeding with brainy guys who will think of creative ways to protect the offspring and carry home food is built into them by natural selection. The obvious inference, then, is that women view the mere occurrence of whom as a proxy for actual evidence of intelligence.

The fact is that incorrect uses of whom occur rather frequently. "Whom did they think was underwriting the signage …," journalist Ari L. Noonan cleverly wrote in a Culver City online newspaper recently. But to laugh at Noonan for making a grammatical error would be to miss the point. What's important is that if you and he are both using online dating services, he will get more sex than you unless you up the frequency of whom in your writing.

So screw the rules. Evolution cares only about whether you get laid. And (admit it) so do you. I certainly do. I've been throwing my life away trying to catalog the entire set of grammatical principles that characterize Standard English, but those days are over. My eyes have been opened to what's really important: attracting women by writing woman-pleasing prose.

Whom would possibly object to that?

Geoff Pullum is professor of general linguistics in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. He is co-author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

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