Last week, I posted the following message on Facebook:
Just got into a grammar fight at work. It lasted about 20 minutes. I am so cool.
A number of people responded, curious about the details, and I responded by adding that the “argument” also involved multiple books and websites. Then, to let people decide for themselves who won, I followed up with this:
The article was a short interest piece about the log cabins of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood. Here’s my sentence: “Upon reaching Kansas, Pa and a neighbor built a new log home on the prairie, and Laura describes its construction in great detail.” My editor changed it to “Upon reaching Kansas, Pa and a neighbor built a new log home on the prairie, whose construction Laura describes in great detail.”
I argued that the “new log home” cannot be referred to with a “whose,” because it is not a human or an animal with a name. He argued that “whose” is perfectly appropriate, regardless of whether the noun in question is a human or an animal with a name. The AP Stylebook entry for “who, whom” says “Who is the pronoun used for references to human beings and to animals with a name.” The entry for “who’s, whose” just says “Who’s is a contraction for who is, not a possessive: Who’s there? Whose is the possessive: I do not know whose coat it is.”
He wanted to change the wording because he often prefers simple declarative sentences, whereas I tend to ramble on and vary simple sentences with compound sentences, complex sentences and compound-complex sentences (as I am doing here) to keep the rhythm of the text more interesting. Neither is wrong, per se (and I will argue that to the death), just different in personal writing style.
We ultimately changed the sentence to “Upon reaching Kansas, Pa and a neighbor built a new log home on the prairie. Laura describes its construction in great detail in her third book.” A good compromise, I thought.
Maybe I shouldn’t say I’m “cool.” I think the more appropriate word would be “stylish.”
There are probably other words that could be used to describe people like me, but in the interest of good self-esteem, I’m not going down that road! What can I say… some days I love my job :).