John McIntyre

English respectfully declines to be tidy

Responding to my post on the virtually extinct crotchet about not making inanimate nouns possessive, a reader posting as bingley remarked, "I hadn't come across it in quite that form but I do remember being told that you couldn't use 'whose' with an inanimate referent, that you should use 'of which.' "
I assume that whoever imposed that preposterous stricture on bingley would write "an idea whose time has come" as "an idea the time of which has come." 
What we see at work in these specimens and in bogus rules like unto them is a determination to clean up and regularize English, to tidy it up, to make it more logical. But, as I have said before, English ain't algebra. It operates on identifiable grammatical principles, but they are not established by logic. And the people trying to make the language more logical can end up with the kind of robo-speak that produces "an idea the time of which has come." 
Nothing could be more illogical than English's maddening spelling, and nothing better displays the language's resistance to logic than the failure of repeated attempts to reform its orthography. Nothing could be more illogical than idioms, which by definition do not mean what the plain words say. If we wished to express a world-turned-on-its-head-by-enthusiasm situation, we would say heels over head. Instead we say head over heels, even though that is precisely where the most stolid head always is. We have watched in recent years the phrase could care less come to mean, idiomatically and illogically, couldn't care less (pace Bill Walsh). 
All of us have our little crotchets and preferences, our pet fine distinctions of meaning, and most of them are relatively harmless. But if we instruct or edit others, it's incumbent upon us to examine whether those preferences and distinctions match how the language is actually being spoken and written.