Wednesday, 30 October 2019

who dat?

There is no longer a dative case (cāsus datīvus, a case for giving) in the English language, the grammatical role having been displaced by the preposition to in order to indicate the indirect object—that is, the beneficiary of the sentence’s action.
Whereas in languages like German, the recipient is expressed through declination: Ich gab dem Kind ein Geschenk, modifying the noun and its article from the das form it takes in the nominative, I gave the child a present (Gift, confusingly, being the German word for poison). Though the preposition is still needed, the pronouns whom and him are relics of the old dative endings with one fossilised expression in methinks—meaning “it seems to me” (from the Old English verb þyncan—to seem) appearing in the works of Shakespeare over one-hundred fifty times, including in the Saint Crispin’s Day speech, delivered on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, of Queen Gertrude and obsequiously I always thought during a cloud-gazing exchange between Hamlet and Polonius. That particular likeness that they settled on “Methinks it is like a weasel” was selected by Richard Dawkins as more accessible thought experiment than an infinitude of monkeys banging out the complete works of the Bard to illustrate a common misconception regarding the “randomness” of evolution, demonstrating even a computer running billions of iterations per second would unlikely match the phrase given all the time in the world.