Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The Wicked Which"

Just for fun...

Writing is also a process of learning. I felt that I learned much about English grammar, word structure, and writing from studying Latin and Greek as an undergraduate. But I still have difficulties with my own writing style. These become more apparent to me as I write the remaining chapters of my dissertation and prepare articles for publication.

A few months ago, I showed a draft of the article that I was submitting to the Proceedings of the XIVth International Numismatic Congress to a colleague. He commented that I employ the "Archie Bunker use of 'which'." I did not know what this meant exactly; I never watched the show. That fountain of haphazardly reliable information, Wikipedia, tells me that Archie Bunker was known for peculiar "Archie-isms," and so I suspect that the comment may have referred to my simple misuse of the word.

Since then I have tried to be more cognizant of how I use "which" and "that." At the AIA/APA meetings last week, one of the books I picked up was M. Golden's Greek Sport and Social Status (Austin, 2007). I have recently started reading it and was encouraged to see the following in his preface (p. xii): "At University of Texas Press, Nancy Moore saved me from many errors and obscurities and helped me slay the Wicked Which (that, I know)." It is reassuring to know that senior and well-published scholars have also struggled with grammatical uses as seemingly basic as the use of "which."

Reading this prompted me to see what I could find on the internet about the use of "which." I quickly came across "Which versus that" on the "World Wide Words" website. It is written in an accessible way with many clear examples. It also explains that many people are confused about the proper usage because it has changed over the past century. Essentially, the hard and fast rules have changed and there is some disagreement even among grammarians.

In any case, I hope to be more vigilant when it comes to the "Wicked Which" that plagues my prose.



I see from New Hart's Rules (Oxford UP) 4.3.1: 'In US English which is used only for non-restrictive clauses.' The Rules also comment, 'Note that in restrictive relative clauses either which or that may be used'.