Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

All of Which

Posted by Neal on November 8, 2013

Picture from PeruDelights.com

Picture from PeruDelights.com

Last week was the last football game of the season for Doug’s high school. As such, it was “senior night,” when the seniors on the football team received a pre-game recognition. As I looked on, I heard the announcer say

…our senior players, all of which are donning their uniform for the final time tonight.

All of which?

I know that which hasn’t always been reserved for inanimate things. Just look at the Lord’s Prayer in the King James version of the Bible: “Our Father, which art in heaven….” But I’m not used to hearing it in present-day English. I suspect that the preposition is responsible, because speakers are trying to avoid saying whom but aren’t quite comfortable with saying of who, either. Actually, I was surprised at how much confusion there was on the issue in the answers to this question on EnglishForums.com. One commenter even stated that friends, most of which was “technically correct,” but that he would say friends, most of whom only because he hated the sound of friends, most of which.

In COCA, I looked for sequences of a determiner (like all, some, none) or a number followed by of which, and found about 15,000 hits. Inspecting a few pages of hits, I found which with mostly inanimate antecedents, but I did turn up a few animate whiches:

  • Now you have got a field of candidates, some of which are perceived to be to his right.
  • …the increase has pushed illegal immigrants to the streets, “some of which go on to commit further crimes.”
  • This is what he said in confidence to his friends, one of which went to gossip to Don Honorato…
  • The task recorded by the helicopter’s night view camera was to try find and rescue survivors. Two of which were who were found bobbing in a life raft.
  • Well, but do you think that congressmen, the two of which I just cited, are they capable of moving beyond that calculation?
  • Between 1946 and 1966 more than 2,500,000 immigrants were admitted to Canada, 900,000 of which were sponsored.
  • According to British estimates in February 1949 the total number of former “Palestinians” — those who remained behind and those who fled — was around 900,000 of which 320,000 … now lived in the Jordanian territory in the West Bank or across the Jordan

Four of these are from spoken English, so it’s possible they were speech errors, or whom avoidance. But the other three are from fiction and academic prose, and in the academic stuff I don’t imagine whom avoidance would play a role. So it’s just possible that animate which lives on, at least after prepositions.

That wasn’t the only linguistic surprise last Friday night. One by one, the senior players marched to the middle of the field, as the announcer introduced them, and added “escorted by” and the name of their parents, or a parent. I did a double-take when one player walked out cradling a baby in his right arm.

I mean, really, doesn’t that seem to stretch the definition of escort?

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8 Responses to “All of Which”

  1. Ran said

    I would definitely use “whom” in all of these examples, but I have to say, the “which” doesn’t sound all that bad to me. Like, I think it would notice it, but I don’t think it sounds nearly as bad as something like “my friend Jim, of which I have only good things to say.” (I think the difference is the partitive “of”; the “some of which”/all of which”/”three of which” construction is somewhat fossilized.)

    • Ran said

      By the way, another informal whom-less variant is “who quantifier of them”, as in “and when any of my straight friends (who some of them don’t know of my bi-ness) call me on my phone I get so shy and shaky!” [link] “Quantifier of which” is, in a sense, closer to Standard English, in that it avoids the resumptive pronoun, but personally I find “who quantifier of them” much less unnatural. (Though that might just be me, perhaps due to interference from Hebrew.)

  2. kpmacbeth said

    I just can’t do animate whiches! When I hear others do this, I notice. It could be, as Ran suggests, that people are more accustomed to the inanimate which, so it tumbles out unmonitored. But it could also be that insecurity about who vs. whom has led people to avoid using whom at all costs.

  3. Stan said

    Animate which does indeed live on, but only just. I hadn’t thought of whom-avoidance as a motivation for it. A sort-of-related example I heard in a documentary film: “the referee itself”. Though that’s still not as strange as the time I heard “whom” used to refer to houses. (I’ve blogged about both of these.)

  4. EP said

    Let’s try and open up to which a bit. Less for which’s sake, but the sooner we can get whom out of here, the better. Whom and I just don’t get along.

  5. the ridger said

    Animate which doesn’t strike me as odd at all. I also use inanimate whose (buildings whose facades are art-deco), though I wouldn’t use who (buildings who are tall? nope).

  6. the ridger said

    ps – Yes. Yes, it does. I don’t even think you can say “accompanied by” a baby, unless you’re talking about airlines or something…

  7. Joshua Gibson said

    It’s worth noting that all of these examples involve nouns that refer to people in an impersonal way — players, congressmen, survivors, friends — and can thus be easily treated as “things” (occupations, transient statuses, relationships). I would be more surprised by “Melanie and George, both of which are ugly, had a beautiful baby” than by any of these examples.

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