In “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” The Clash sing:
This indecision’s bugging me
If you don’t want me, set me free
Exactly whom I’m s’posed to be
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?
Does the anti-establishment veneer of Strummer and Jones hide a secret respect for their queen’s English? Or are they committing a bit of grammanarchy?
When you’re an editor and also a rocker, these are the things that tease, tease, tease your mind.
So I turned to the most definitive source of information available today. Strunk and White? No. The OED? No. Twitter – a known hangout for word nerds, nitpickers and chronic discussers. I asked, When The Clash sing “Exactly WHOM I’m s’posed to be,” are they grammatically right or not?
@hubbit was first to reply: I believe not. It’s nominative, the way a phone is answered with “this is s/he”. Whom would be an object.
@BJMuntain disagreed: Looks right. If you say it normally: I’m s’posed to be whom – whom is object.
@EditorMark at first said simply: Who. But then he considered it some more and came back echoing BJ: So ignore what comes before “whom” and we’re left with the subject “I” the verb “to be” and the object clearly “whom.”
We can look to the most unlikely of rock grammarians, Metallica, for a simple illustration of this: For whom the bell tolls. Flip it around: The bell (subject) tolls (verb) for whom (the object).
But “I’m s’posed to be whom?” doesn’t quite sound right, does it?
Then @GrammarMonkeys chimed in, and you know they have to be right because they have “monkeys” in their name: Except the verb “to be” is intransitive, and what follows is a predicate nominative, so “who.”
Well, that kind of throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing.
Using Mignon’s “quick and dirty tip,” we conclude that “I’m s’posed to be him” leads us to “I’m s’posed to be whom?”
Turns out, The Clash had it right all along. See? Even anarchy follows the rules sometimes.