In belated honor of Theodore Geisel’s birthday yesterday, I offer you a piece I wrote, under a pseudonym, for Ami Magazine years ago, about a grammatical gripe, but in homage to the good “Doctor”:
It’s too much overheard
And too much to endure.
Many words are misused
And misplaced; that’s for sure.
But there are words so simple, so common, so plain
That confusing them causes us terrible pain.
They grate on the ear, they bother the head,
They set teeth on edge, and up make us fed.
A THING is a THING, and a person is not.
He’s a man, that is, or a woman or tot.
A thing is a thing, like a cat (or a hat)
And the right word to use for such things is, well, “that.”
So it’s: “The hat that was sat upon ran out of luck.”
Or, likewise, the “cat that challenged a truck.”
You would never refer to a hat as a “who.”
Or a cat for that matter, or a cow… or a moo.
“Who” is reserved for beings quite human,
Not for feelings or furniture, cabbage or cumin.
Even elephantine Horton who heard a clear who
Does not himself merit one, as do I and do you.
For an animal or object, “who” is atrocious.
“Who” is for you, reader, adult or precocious.
So please, no more “the person that came to my house”
Or “the lady that screamed when she spotted a mouse.”
No more “neighbors we hear that are going on vacation”
Or “children that come from Haiti are Haitian.”
No more “Zaidy, that is with computers a novice.”
Or “Zeldy that’s coming to visit on Shabbos”
It’s WHO in such cases, since a person’s a person
Our use of English must improve and not worsen.
If we aim not to seem entirely dumb.
It’s “Who” for those of opposable thumb
Excepting simians, of course, that’s quite certain;
Monkeys get “that,” like a lampshade or curtain.
But we humans are different; get this down pat!
We take a “WHO”—And that is just that.