Woe to whom?

Welcome to our first “Glossologue”! Every month, Alison (my fellow Glosso-blogger) and I will post an example of language usage that sparks discussion and debate – and we invite you all to come and battle it out here on Glossophilia.

Feel free to weigh in and offer your insights and arguments – especially if you’re right!

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Glossologue I: Woe to whom?

Last week Alison and I crossed swords – very briefly and  amicably – over something one of us stumbled on in the “Ethicist” column of the New York Times magazine*. Here is the statement in question:

“It’s unethical, but then again, it’s just an updated form of advertising, and woe to him who seeks truth therein.”*

It’s that pesky pronoun that knots our brows: is it really “woe to him who“? If he is the one seeking the truth, shouldn’t he have the benefit of a subjective pronoun before the only verb in that part of the sentence – “he [who] seeks”? However, he is, after all, the object of the woe being heaped, and let’s face it: without the relative clause that follows (“who seeks truth”), “woe to he” is clearly a clanger.

So, is this sentence correct, or has there been an editing booboo*? What do you think?

* this is not necessarily the final version that appeared online or in print


1 thought on “Woe to whom?

  1. Brian Barder

    I think you can safely unknot your brows. “Woe to he who” would manifestly be wrong. The subject of “seeks” is “who”, not “him” or “he”, and the “him” takes that form because it’s governed by “to”. Problem solved!


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