One of our blog authors recently tackled the “whom issue”, and it made me wonder if this word is really dying out. Our readers will also remember several posts featuring the split infinitive, the pedants’ pet peeve.
I have decided to explore the actual usage of whom and the split infinitive (separated by one adverb only) in British and American English from the first half of the twentieth century onwards. I investigated the changes in British English for the period 1931- 2006 (corpora used in the analysis: BLOB-1931, LOB, FLOB, BE06) and in American English for the period 1960s-2006 (corpora used in the analysis: Brown, Frown, AE06).
Here are the results (the data for American English in 1931 are not available):
Whom has indeed been losing popularity in British English since the 1930s, and the decrease in use is getting sharper. Things are not as straightforward in American English, where it seems that whom witnessed a revival in the beginning of the 1990s, which was again followed by a decrease in use.
Things are, on the other hand, rather unambiguous when it comes to the split infinitive. This grammatical construction is on the rise. The increase in use was not as dramatic in British English in the period between the 1930s and the 1960s, but it has rocketed since then. A similar trend can be identified in American English: a high increase between the 1960s and the 1990s, with a continuing rising trend.
What do you think, which other constructions and/or words are on the rise, and which ones are on their way to extinction?