Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's all about "me"

Why have so many people stopped using "me" after prepositions? Instead they say, "This is just right for you and I," or "Ted went to the game with Tony and I." Friends do it, family members do it, TV news anchors do it, I've even heard an NPR reporter do it. OK, she was reporting from a battleground, so I'll cut her a break for stress, but still...

What's wrong with "me?" Could it be that some "I" misusers think "me" sounds babyish? "Me want cookies now!" Or maybe "I" seems more educated, more elegant, more formal than "me." "Me" certainly feels more sensual in the mouth. You have to press your lips together to produce the "m" sound, the vibration that begins a moan or a moo. "I" is unsullied by such an earthy consonant.

I bet the "I" crowd never had to memorize the 48 prepositions in alphabetical order and be ready for a pop quiz on them every single week, as I was required to do in 8th grade English. If they had, they'd think twice before using a subjective pronoun after a preposition.

But I'm guessing the main reason so many people say "for you and I" instead of "for you and me" is because the usage has become so common. You hear it all the time. My theory--which is probably not original although I can't recall reading about it before--is that Jim Morrison and The Doors share the blame for this. In 1968, they released a single called "Touch Me" that reached #3 on Billboard Hot 100 and has been playing on oldies stations every since. You must have heard it. Here's the refrain:

I'm gonna love you
Till the heavens stop the rain
I'm gonna love you
Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.

The rhythm slows for the first three lines, which are sung gently, sweetly. Then the tempo starts to pick up and at the crescendo Morrison punches out "FOR YOU AND I!" Yeah, yeah, I know Morrison did it for the rhyme and that there are no grammar rules in rock and roll. And I think it's a great song. I'm just fascinated by the power of music, and by the idea that maybe the emphatic "FOR YOU AND I," heard over and over again on oldies stations, became so embedded in our brains that the usage spread like a virus. Personally, I hope we find a cure for this virus. I think the cure might have to do with memorizing prepositions and diagramming sentences.

What does this have to do with nonfiction for kids? For one thing, it reminds me of what Jim Murphy discussed in his blog yesterday. Faulty "facts"--like faulty grammar--can take hold through sheer repetition.

As for the poor old pronoun "me," I can't feel too sorry for it, since it appears to have usurped "I" as a subject. Me and my kids can tell you all about it.


Deborah Heiligman said...

If I didn't love you already, Marfe, (folks, Marfe and I got to know each other because she was my editor on some of my National Geo holiday books), this post would make me fall in love with you. It was when President Obama used the I word wrong that my heart was really broken.

CC said...

Can't thank you enough for bringing attention to this matter.

Next, let's address "fun".
Fun is a noun. What isn't "fun" on my
poor old ears is using "fun" as an adjective
as in, That was so fun or very fun.

That was such fun.

Jennifer said...

Well.. I think people are using the "I" word this way because of constantly being corrected! Now they're applying the rule where it doesn't apply.

I sort of relished the day when my grandmother corrected me on this rule and I was able to school her, albeit graciously. The "and I" issue is one of her favorites to correct people on, don't ask me why.

On this particular day, I'd said something to the effect of "Grandpa Dick gave it to Katie and me." Grandma busted in with the "and I" correction, and I took the opportunity to explain the rules of usage-- subject pronoun versus object pronoun.

Does that make me a bad granddaughter?

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Funny you should mention this "I" business, Marfe. I heard the NPR reporter and Obama too and thought the same thing. What was the name of that NPR commentator who used to do a regular spot that corrected everyone's grammar? We need a gatekeeper like that again...the mistakes seem to keep popping up more and more these days. Despite Spell Check, even spelling has suffered lately. Could it have anything to do with Twitter and Tweets?

Susan Kuklin said...

ME bugs I, too!!! It absolutely drives me nuts. I'm so glad you posted this terrific blog, Marfe. In addition, wonderful writing.

Unknown said...

I'm actually having more trouble with the use of Me as the subjective pronoun. And some of the best educated folks I know, largely under the age of 30, say it!

Marfe Ferguson Delano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marfe Ferguson Delano said...

Thanks to all of you for chiming in. Jennifer, you make a great point that being constantly corrected over the years has made some of us uncertain about which pronoun to use. I also think it's the plural that trips up a lot of people. If they were to consider what they'd use in the singular and then apply it to the plural, they'd get it right most of the time.