This topic comes directly out of my latest book-editing gig. Last week I spent time going over the text of “The Zombie Cause Dictionary,” which is rather delightful (though understandably macabre, and not for every taste) accompaniment to the forthcoming film, “The Zombie Cause,” a “documentary” about zombies: their history, the folklore, how to kill them (or make them “redead”) effectively, the presumed political systems that foster their creation, and so on.

PLUG: If you get a chance, check out the (pre-my-input, but still pretty good) Zombie Cause website, wherein you’ll learn (way more than you maybe ever wanted to know) about zombies: how to kill (re-dead) them, how they function, how to re-dead them best, etc. If you take a look, you’ll be alternately totally disgusted and utterly amused; more often that not, the laughs will far outweigh the revulsions.

(If you go back later, once my editing has been incorporated, along with my few suggestions for, as Rob Petrie would say, “punchin’ it up a bit”… Well, let’s say you’ll either love it even more, or I’m just not nearly as clever as I sometimes think I am.)

Oh yeah, this was supposed to be about language-issues. Patience …

What I ran into during this project was the repeated need to address how to deal with “referential pronouns.” Let me explain: When you write or speak about a human being, you don’t depersonalize that individual by referring to “the man THAT went past me a hour ago.” Instead, you’d say, “the man WHO…” Using “that” is for inanimate objects, indeterminate aspects of nature (wind, rain, snow, etc.) or most animals.

(Exception: If you’ve defined a cherished dog or cat, and given that animal a name and a gender, it’s a stretch, but you could arguably say “him” or “her” in later references. This would also go for other critters pets, if you value them as “people” in your lives (and have established their “personhood” prior to the particular sentence). Purists might argue, but I have better battles to fight.)

Examples of both situations may prove instructional:

  1. This is the bag that contains the essentials for survival.
  2. This is the man who promised to give us the answer.

If that’s clear enough, my work is done here.

… <casual whistling … clearing of throat …. >

Okay, I guess there is still one loose end here: most of you are wondering what excuse I have for spending so long with all that zombie stuff at the beginning, before getting on with it. The answer is twofold: shameless self-promotion, of course; but meanwhile, that issue was present in almost every line I edited in that work.

You see, according to zombie lore, once a human being is converted to “undead” status, his or her gender and personhood becomes pretty irrelevant; the single purpose of that “unlife” becomes maintaining its (very limited) existence at whatever cost, searching for the brains of living humans, until some zombie-hunting sharpshooter (or accurate hurler or skilful stabber, using a wide variety of implements) terminates that feeble existence and makes the zombie “redead.” (Some would say by “dehumanizing” the creatures, it becomes much easier to blow their heads off in a confrontation, especially if that thing used to be your next-door neighbor or sister. I am not going there…)

Thus, for any reference to an individual (or group of them) who could be listed among the ranks of still-living, breathing and thinking human beings, you would use “who”… while in a notation involving zombies (in any of their several stages of decomposition along the pathway to “re-death” and final repose, about which I now know way too much!) you must use “that” (Or, on very rare occasions, it would be ”which”; that’s another topic soon to be addressed, but not worth going into now.).

If you can imagine how often I had to read through and either approve or edit those situations in the last project, while going back through the text to make sure whether the reference implied a who, or a former-who-now-what)…

I think you see why I went into such a longwinded explanation here … Apologies, anyway; see ya tomorrow.