1. H.W. Fowler demonstrates that he’s OK with using the pronoun that (rather than who/whom) to refer to a person:
It is the second-rate writers, those intent on expressing themselves prettily rather than on conveying their meaning clearly, & still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to the allurement of elegant variation.(From Modern English Usage, 1926; thanks to Ben Yagoda, who quotes the passage in today's post on elegant variation. Fowler doesn’t have a separate entry on the who/that question; the peeve hadn’t yet been invented.)
2. Audiences at a broadcast of the National Theatre's "She Stoops to Conquer" last week were reminded that locutions like “to Janie and I” are not the innovations of a grammar-challenged new generation. We all know Shakespeare wrote "betweeen you and I," but I hadn't heard this one, from the first scene of Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 play. Mrs. Hardcastle says to her son, as he heads off to the pub:
Tony, where are you going, my charmer? Won't you give papa and I a little of your company, lovey?(For much more on the history and behavior of "nominative coordinate objects," see Arnold Zwicky’s comments and bibliographies at his blog. Also, the video of “She Stoops” will be repeated April 18 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass.)
3. Etymology -- it's child's play! Anyone can invent an etymological story that someone will believe. I was reminded of this when, in researching hoodlum, I learned that some people still subscribe to the fanciful tale that
hoodlum was the accidental coinage of a newspaper reporter. In a story about a gang of ruffians led by a fellow named Muldoon, the reporter spelled the name as Noodlum to avoid reprisals. The newspaper's compositor misinterpreted the name as Hoodlum.
But I had even better proof at hand. Last weekend, my preschooler grandson asked why strawberries were called "straw" berries, and we told him nobody knew for sure. A bit later, when the aforementioned berries were served, he was ready with his own theory. "I know why they’re called strawberries,” he told us. “I think straw is the way you say 'seeds' in French."
(No, he doesn’t know French. You don’t need knowledge to invent etymologies, just a lively imagination.)