2.18.2005

A Modest Proposal

"Maybe it is only I, but conditions are such these days, that if you use studiously correct grammar, people suspect you of homosexual tendencies."
Dorothy Parker, 1925

"It was either going to be you or I, and I didn't want it to be me."
-Angie, voting on Survivor last Thursday.

What is it about parallel structure that confuses us so? It seems so simple: Would you say "It was going to be I"? No. You wouldn't. And, pray tell, why not? Forget the rules of style, it just sounds bad. Doesn't it?

And here's the problem.

It doesn't sound bad. Used to be, we heard enough proper English to know what was right simply because improper English sounded wrong. Today, sigh, this passes for proper:

"I know it's been a little while since I've been out the house,
but now I'm here.. you wanna stand around runnin' yo' mouth?
I can't hear nothing you sayin' or spittin',
so what's up? Don't you see we in da club?"

I realize using pop lyrics as an example of eroding grammar may seem lucicrous. Popular music has always reveled in its ain't-got-nos and she-done-me-wrongs. But it used to be seen as something songwriters did, and that type of speech wasn't used in a job interview.

Today, high schoolers use "da" in formal papers. As an article, not quoting Dostoyevsky.

What to do? My suggestion is as simple as it is subversive:

Correct them.

Growing up, were you ever told "ain't ain't a word"? Adults had no problem guiding us. It took my high school English teacher three years to break my usage of "on accident." And now I bug the crap out of kids who say it.

Be polite. Don't condescend. Simply say:
"You or me. It was going to be you or me."
If enough people say that to them, they'll get it.

You have mine word on it.

1 comment:

Kiffy said...

I sat down to write something today and ended up stumbling upon the exact question you discuss in this post.

It seems ridiculous to say "It's going to be I", and yet, the verb "to be" typically necessitates the use of predicate nominative, meaning that "to be I" would be correct. Perhaps you can help me out - what am I missing here?