Saturday, September 12, 2009

This is why kids should have to diagram sentences

This has been bothering me for a while, and it seems to be getting worse. So listen up, people: Your favorite expression of moral responsibility and noblesse oblige has more words in it than you think.

You hear it during graduation season -- it's popular in commencement addresses and yearbook quotations. Vicki Kennedy botched it at Senator Ted's memorial service. And I came across it recently in the New York Times Business Section, of all places. Here's what people usually say:

    "To whom much is given, much is expected."

Don't get me wrong: I'm not criticizing the sentiment people think they're endorsing when they say this. I'm always trying to live up to it, in fact, since it's from the Bible and everything. But look again, because what I just wrote above doesn't make any sense. Here's what you have to say in order to be communicating a coherent thought:

    "FROM THOSE [or OF THOSE] to whom much is given, much is expected."

See? You can't start with the "to," because then you've got word salad. Well, unless you do it RSV-style: "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48)

Bonus fun fact: not that anyone was paying attention to her speech, but this year's Notre Dame valedictorian got the quotation right. In fact, she built her whole speech around it. However, she attributed it to Bill Gates's mom, rather than Jesus. Whoops?

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