agenbite of "inwhich"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Aug 25 15:49:57 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.

How much responsibility for this development should be laid at the
door of the default last clause of The Essay, viz.

"...and make this world a better place in which to live"



>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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