Thursday, April 12, 2007

That vs. Who

This headline turned up in today's news:

D.A. apologizes to ex-Duke lacrosse players
'I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused,' Nifong says
In our research, we've encountered grammar experts who say "that" and "who" can both be used to refer to people. Perhaps this is the case. But we don't care for it at SPOGG.

We like to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects. We like to honor people with the word "who"; it feels infinitely more elegant than that. (We also call named animals "who.")

Besides, "that" reminds us of the televangelist Jim Bakker, whose organization PTL stood for "Praise the Lord" or "People That Love."

People That Love? Ugh. That's some hellish prose. Amen.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I teach college English, and it is becoming more and more difficult for me to find students not using "that" as the default indicative pronoun when referring to people or groups of people in both speech and writing. The simple example I hammer into their questing noggins every semester is this:

People = Who/whom
Things (anything not human) = That

The rationale I give is also simple, yet I think quite profound:

Our society and culture depersonalize humanity -- individuals or groups of individuals -- too much as it is. Let us not contribute to that depersonalization any more, as it may ultimately depersonalize us all.

~ Prof. Peter R Jacoby
San Diego Mesa College