Sunday 10 June 2012

What's wrong with me?

          When I suggested to my daughter that I might write an article entitled ‘what’s wrong with me?’, there was the instant retort: “An article? I would have thought a whole book!” Oh ha ha ha – such a cruel and ready wit in one so young… I refer, of course, to the demise of the simple word ‘me’ in popular usage.
            It seems as if many writers and, particularly, speakers will go to almost any lengths to avoid uttering the simple little M word. It stems, I suspect, from our mothers and others continually correcting us as small children when we said such things as “Me and Jim are going to the footy.” (”No darling, you mean James and I are going to watch the football game.” “Oh, are you coming too then Mum?” and so on …)
            This was then compounded by the demise of formal instruction in English grammar in schools, over several decades now. As a consequence, while many are left with the sure and certain knowledge that the use of me sometimes leads to ‘bad’ English, they have no idea as to when and when not to use it. Far better, then, to try to avoid using it as much as possible, just to be on the safe side … to avoid sounding 'common'.
            As a result, we frequently hear things like “Would you like to join Jim and I for dinner?” from otherwise apparently literate individuals who would never dream of  saying “Would you like to join I for dinner?” (“Yes, me would!”, one might be tempted to reply.)
            Far, far worse, however, is the seemingly ubiquitous overuse of ‘myself’, an otherwise inoffensive little reflexive or emphatic pronoun with ideas above its station. And so we hear people say things like “They made myself and my wife very welcome”, when they mean “my wife and me”. Similarly, we might hear “It has been decided that Hector and myself should represent the university” (“Hector and I”). And yet we would rarely hear anyone say “It has been decided that myself should represent etc ...”
            I know; I know what you are going to say: “But English is a living language that is continually evolving.” And so it is and is continually enriched as a result. But we must take care not to allow our liberal and tolerant sensibilities towards linguistic divergence to perpetuate infelicities that stem from fear and ignorance. It is not hard to teach students that ‘I’ is the subject and ‘me’ the object in a sentence. Why then do we not do so? Could it conceivably be because some teachers struggle with this distinction themselves? Or is myself being uncharitable?

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