Friday, December 7, 2012
The Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article examining the that vs. which rule and concluding that it is unfounded. The article uses an historical example that is particularly relevant today:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” That was how President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened his famousinfamy speech, 71 years ago. Ignoring the writing handbooks, he opened with a passive construction, which of course is just right for the rhetorical context (America as innocent victim). And he also ignored another bogeyman rule: He introduced a restrictive relative clause with which.
The false belief that restrictive which is an error stems from a quixotic reform effort of the early 20th century. That attempt to change English failed, but American teachers and editors took note of it, and misinterpreted it as legislation, blithely ignoring the evidence of FDR’s sentence and thousands of others in all kinds of literature.
hat tip: Lou Sirico