Has The New Yorker changed its "who"/"whom" policy? Recently, I noticed--for the first time in fifteen years of more or less consistent readership---two occasions I considered non-standard, both from 2018:

A couple weeks after that, a woman in California called the police on three black women whom she thought were behaving suspiciously.

("Smelling the Coffee" by Jelani Cobb, June 4 and 11, 2018)


They spoke to P.J. and to the men memorialized in Kavanaugh's 1982 calendar as Timmy and Squi, along with Mark Judge, whom Ford says watched Kavanaugh pin her down and try to undress her.

("Bystanders to History" by Amy Davidson Sorkin, October 15, 2018).

Compare these to the magazine's long history of making the opposite choice in this context:

Warren targeted the one person in the White House who she believed could stop the legislation: the First Lady.

("The Virtual Candidate" by Ryan Lizza -- and at least 20 others containing the phrase "who he believed," and 298 containing "who he thought," for a quick and dirty initial survey. [Perhaps notably, the magazine seems to have started insisting on commas around such clauses not long before its apparent switch to "who."])

What explains this change?

  • 6
    ... or their copyediting has recently broken down for these kinds of expressions. – Peter Shor Nov 4 '18 at 17:26
  • 1
    . . . or a mistake was simply not spotted before publication. (Neither writers nor editors are infallible. They've even been known to make the same mistake more than once.) – Jason Bassford Nov 4 '18 at 18:12
  • 2
    If this is a new policy, it's one that flagrantly disagrees with most prescriptive grammarians. So I would really rather attribute this to carelessness than to idiocy on the part of the New Yorker. Maybe they hired a new copyeditor who doesn't understand the grammar of these expressions, and they haven't figured out that they need to explain it to them yet. – Peter Shor Nov 4 '18 at 18:14
  • 2
    Even though I personally think that who and whom can coexist if used in the right contexts, I also understand and support those who in our current time have made a stylistic choice to use who in every context. But I'm simply not going to get behind using whom in every context. ;) – Jason Bassford Nov 4 '18 at 18:34
  • 2
    Heresies often begin as overreactions against earlier heresies. The use of "whom" where "who" is correct might be an overreaction against the widespread use of "who" where "whom" is correct. Perhaps there's some hope for orthodoxy to triumph in the end. – Andreas Blass Nov 5 '18 at 3:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.