The Monster is a ‘Who’

Posted on 27/07/2012 by


So I’m running a spellcheck in Word, partly because I think it’s funny, partly because it never hurts to have another set of eyes, even if they belong so a literarily questionable piece of computer software. Mostly this leads to me hitting the ‘ignore’ button repeatedly and occasionally muttering, Word, what are you thinking? You can’t replace the word ‘unnoticing’ with ‘unenticing’ and get to the same place. And then wandering off to find out if it should be stableyard or stable yard or stable-yard.

But then I ran straight into a classic who/whom thing. A line of dialogue where ‘whom’ is clearly correct, but… would my character know that? I want to say no because the correct version sounds kind of dumb here, but of all my characters this is the one who really would use it correctly in speech.

Me: It’s overly formal and he’s going to sound like an idiot.
Arkem: But being overly formal and sounding like an idiot is kind of who Asmodean is.

Considering motivations in grammatical constructions is not something they teach in writing classes. Although maybe they should. Because the next thing I came across was this line:

I want you to kill the monster who did this. 

And Word helpfully pointed out that instead of ‘who’ it should read ‘that’. And I thought, Well, yes, but… Because there’s a reason I wrote it that way. I mean, sure, grammatically speaking it should be ‘that’ because a monster is a thing not a person. But in this instance the monster actually is a person. Technically. They’re just not very nice.

We use ‘that’ and make a person a thing when we want to distance ourselves from them, make it okay to hurt them, to kill them. It’s not inhumane if they’re not human, right? Except I am really not okay with that idea. So not okay in fact that this book could probably be called The Monster is a ‘Who’.

And besides, the character that thought belongs to kills people fairly regularly, so he’s not deeply concerned with meta constructions that allow him to dehumanise his enemies. Then again, he is in the process of trying to convince someone else to kill said monster. Someone who is still kind of thinking the monster is their friend, so ‘that’ might be appropriate. Except he’s thinking this particular line not saying it out loud so… Spellchecking should not be this complicated.