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Winter-Spring 2006

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When in Doubt, Ask Betty


Mike Jeffers with his mother, Betty, in 1996. Photo by Joe Labberton.

While writing an important letter, you are suddenly faced with the dreaded “who” versus “whom” question. Which is correct? Who—or whom—can you ask?

Do what A&S alumnus Mike Jeffers (‘62, ‘64) has always done. Ask Betty.

Betty (Ball) Jeffers (‘34, ‘35), Mike’s mother, was the consummate grammarian. “She would correct anyone, anywhere,” recalls Jeffers with a chuckle. “She simply couldn’t help herself. If my brother or I brought a friend home and that friend made a grammatical error, my mother might not remember the friend’s name years later, but she’d remember the specific grammatical error.”

Betty Jeffers died in 2004, but Mike still hears her voice in his head when he encounters a grammar faux pas. So he found the perfect way to honor her memory: a $10,000 gift to the English Department to create an interactive website about grammar. The funding will be used by faculty and graduate students to develop content for the site.

The website, appropriately named “Ask Betty,” will be linked to the English Department’s main web page.

“Ask Betty will be a ‘hotline’ on English grammar and usage, customized to our
writing courses,” says Richard Dunn, chair of the English Department. “It will address the grammar and punctuation questions most frequently asked by our students and will include links to other web resources.” Although the site will be designed with students in mind, it will be available for use by the public as well.

What would Betty Jeffers think about all this? “I think she’d love it,” says Mike Jeffers. “To her, using correct English was the mark of a good first impression. It was something she really believed in.”

And what about that pesky “who” versus “whom” question? “Betty would be the first to tell you, it’s whom do you ask," says Jeffers.

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