agenbite of "inwhich"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Aug 25 15:34:21 UTC 2005

Had Kunst been writing in  a formal, and perhaps somewhat old-fashioned, way, he would have written,

1. asset, by which means we'll be able...

But in informal speech, "by which we'll be able" is perfectly fine.

What makes "in which" impossible here is that the context, involving "means" or method or whatever one construes an "asset" to be ("in which" isn't the only problem here! ), requires the preposition "by."  See OED, _by_, 30a.

And what makes "in which" an even greater horror is the fact that for many unpracticed writers (who often write it as "inwhich") tends to replace all other "prep. + which" relative constructions, e.g. :

2. Here's the article inwhich I was telling you.

rather than idiomatic formal

3. Here's the article about which I was telling you.

or the equally idiomatic

4. Here's the article I was telling you about.

The most egregious examples are of the sort

5. Here's the article inwhich I was telling you about,

in which (n.b.) the idiomatic adverb is preserved at the end of the clause, but "which" or "that"
is erroneously replaced by "inwhich."

So far as we know, "inwhich/ in which" most typifies "freshman" writing that suffers from numerous other syntactical and other errors. It is not a feature of any definable spoken dialect (except as defined by "inwhich") and, I believe, was first identified in writing rather than in speech.  That strongly indicates that "inwhich" began as hypercorrection (a mistaken "more formal usage") or through a difficulty in constructing a relative clause idiomatically. The "inwhich" construction, at least twenty years ago, seemed to be far more common in the writing of anglophone students educated in U.S. high schools than in that of such students educated elsewhere.

But since, as David's query innocently implies, "inwhich" represents The English Of Tomorrow, who am I, really, to stand in the way of change ?

Nevertheless, I am right now on my way to space, where no one can hear me scream.


David Bowie <db.list at PMPKN.NET> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: David Bowie
Subject: Re: agenbite of "inwhich"

From: Jonathan Lighter

> The "inwhich" phenomenon has been commented on frequently, but in my
> experience it's mainly confined to unpracticed writing of the
> freshman comp sort and is rarely heard in adult speech.

> But few weeks back Mr. Bob Kunst, who looks to be about 50 and is
> President of a group called "Hillary Now," responded as follows to a
> question from Fox News about whether "controversy" might weaken a
> presidential campaign by Mrs. Clinton :

> "We see any controversy as an asset in which we'll be able to get
> more people out to vote."

> He meant "by which."

Re: the first paragraph, i've missed all the previous discussion on "in
which", and as an overeducated nearly-35-year-old, i would simply like
to say, with utter shock and dread in my voice: You mean there's
supposed to be a difference between "in which" and "by which"?!?

I mean, yeah, there's a difference in some contexts, sure, but i see the
two as pretty much absolutely synonymous in Mr. Kunst's line quoted
above. (That's probably why i never noticed the discussion on it before,
i suppose--i didn't see anything of interest in it.)

Seriously, i don't see the difference--what's it "supposed"[1] to be? I
mean, if i were *forced* to draw a distinction, i'd probably have
guessed that "in which" sounds more formal and therefore i'd expect that
one to be the usage manual form. This is apparently not the case.

[1] Yep, the scare-quotes were put in on purpose.

David Bowie
Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.

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