WHO CARES ABOUT I? ME DO.   15 comments

There’s been an interesting discussion going on in the “Definitive Serious Writer’s Group,” Terrence Brejla’s creation on LinkedIn, about the use/misuse of the English language. Mostly it’s people who love the language, bemoaning the contamination so common now in everyday parlance, including – even especially – in the media. I share the pain. I also remember my big brother’s argument. Absolutely meticulous in the use of language, he argued, nevertheless, that the purpose of speech is communication. If one grants that, then it’s important to avoid using language as a cudgel to shame others. It follows that one sometimes modifies usage to join with the other speaker(s) in a community of understanding.

I think he was right about the community-of understanding argument. On the other hand, the usage rules we’ve learned along the way are designed to facilitate just such civil discourse. How do we avoid cudgeling – assuming we adopt that purpose – and still uphold the beauty and purpose of the language? Let’s face it. Language is always changing, and some of the things that upset us now will be in the textbooks somewhere down the road.

Take, for example, something like, “Me and him went to the movies.” Who would say, “Me went to the movies,” or “Him went to the movies?” Yet when they go as a couple they become objects. How did that happen? What about community? Back in the olden days, there was a courtesy. “He and I went to the movies.” We’d never have said, “I and he went to the movies.” Does that say something about a general tendency to put ourselves first, reflecting a changing attitude toward community?

Then there’s the phenomenon that reminds me of the feeling of being the nasty person who wouldn’t allow smoking in my house. That was “rude,” preventing one acquaintance from entering my house ever again. The look I get is similar when I say something like “Mary went with him and me.” The classy version, it seems, is “Mary went with he and I.” Would that same person tell me “Mary went with he,” or “Mary went with I?” How did the change happen?

I mean, Just sayin’, ya know

Posted March 20, 2012 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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15 responses to “WHO CARES ABOUT I? ME DO.

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  1. Me like this! And me and Kay is going to keep following your blog, ’cause…well… me and her really like what her writes. You struck a nerve here. I confess. I’m a snob on this. Language, like most things in life, can be beautiful or it can be ugly. From my limited point of view, you hit the nail ont he head. The culture of courtesy (i.e. a culture that considered the other person and sought to place the spearker’s self second in order) said, “He and I went to the movies.” You can track what’s happened to a society or culture by what happens to its language. Might it be that the me-first grammer reflects the seepage of consumer capitalism into the the American DNA? Could the greed and disrespect for others that we see on Wall Street (most recently exposed by the resigning Goldman Sachs executive) have happened because the habits of speech made it second-nature to us? Again, like you, I mean, Just sayin’, ya know?

  2. A further comment on beauty. Language is a precious gift. One needn’t be a fan of Chaucer or Shakespeare to appreciate its beauty. Think Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, Thoreau, Emerson, Emily Dickenson, Herman Melville, Wendell Berry, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Weisel. Each of these writers LIFTS us and deepens us at the same time. Each leads me to aspire to the beauty and power of language not only in order to communciate with others, but tosatisfy my own soul’s longing to express itself to itself. When we shift the cultgure’s aspirations to the lowest common denominator, we lose something sacred. BTW, one of the reasons I so respect our current President is the care with which he speaks and the thoughtfulness of his language. He speaks in complete sentences. Not just simple, short sentences, but compound and complex sentences. We need more of that in our public life. More professors. Fewer Limbaughs.

  3. Mona – You know that I count on you for the correctness of the written word. Just as you edited my novel, “asap -as soon as possible-“, vastly improving my grammer and punctuation, you are reminding your circle of followers about simple courtesy. Mentioing “he” before “I”. Thank you.

  4. Hi again. I just referred The Alternate Economy to your post. Here’s the link: http://alternateeconomy.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/forums/

    You might post your own follow up comment there on that blog to promote further consideration of your contribtuion tot he discussion.

  5. I am a stickler for correct language. I have bemoaned the same as you – saying “me” first. It sounds like little children speaking. i correct my daughter each time she say something wrong 🙂 She in fact likes it.
    That is nice. A little ray of hope.

  6. Thanks, Leelah. I want other folks to know I appreciate your remarks more because English (American) is not your native language, a fact one wouldn’t know from reading your writings. http://authonomy.com/books/34864/when-fear-comes-home-to-love-finding-the-path-to-the-place-you-never-left/

    I think you’ve hit on at least a partial explanation of the source of the “Me and Him” usage. I’m happy you correct your daughter and she likes it. So does my daughter and her daughter, both of whom pass it on to whomever is their target. I guess sometimes people do feel targeted, and that’s the other side of the coin.

  7. As a teacher of English, I love the beauty and richness of language, but I also appreciate that it is dynamic: new words find their way into our lexicon all the time (remember when “byte” wasn’t a homophone?). That said, I think of the use of language as I think of etiquette: There are rules that govern it, and these rules can help everyone interact more harmoniously. Perhaps as important (maybe even more so?), grammar aids in our understanding of others. So, when someone violates a rule by saying “Me and him went to the movies,” that person is undermining not just his own communication but others’ ability to understand him. Even if the listener grasps the intended meaning, the speaker has likely conveyed – fairly or not – information about himself he did NOT intend (e.g., that he’s not terribly literate, that he’s careless, etc.). In the end, rules should facilitate; when they’re compromised their very utility is undermined.

  8. Hey Pam,

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂

    Thanks for the validation

  9. Respectful of the erudition of your learned responders, I confess my response is based, not so much on my specific knowledge of grammar or of the authors mentioned, but on being the daughter of said “older brother”. At home we did not so much discuss language as speak it. And I will confess I have become more like my father every year. My irritation at the language others use can be relentless within my mind. As a nurse I have always worked with people of diverse backgrounds and rich heritage. The cultural, regional and experiential variations on the language are limitless. I have not yet talked with a co-worker about having a new word from the dictionary presented each night at the dinner table – or a new French word, my mother’s passion. I guess that would be my absurdity in the minds of others. But I got the message. While I “listen” within the “community of undersanding” it remains a struggle for me to speak with such community. I am aware of the need to modify my style of expression or choice of words, as I do want to make myself understood, but I adhere to whatever the “rules” were that were so imbedded. Certainly history proves that language changes. I hope I have made reasonable accommodations. Yet I continue my father’s legacy of annoyance at many or those changes. As he once said when a bank teller suggested he “have a nice day”, “Nobody is going to tell me what kind of day to have.”

  10. As the daughter of an English major, and teacher, I still have to dissect the sentence sometimes to get it right. Stream of consciousness can sometimes make for some very strange sentences…. Too often I hit send in today’s media before thoroughly proofreading what I send. And then there is that silent little typographical error who suddenly becomes loud upon being published…

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