Help Wanted: Grammar Czar

A recent op-ed in the New York Times gently chided President Obama for his tendency to shun the objective pronoun case.

Since his election, the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers for using “I” instead of “me” in phrases like “a very personal decision for Michelle and I” or “the main disagreement with John and I” or “graciously invited Michelle and I.”

The rule here, according to conventional wisdom, is that we use “I” as a subject and “me” as an object, whether the pronoun appears by itself or in a twosome. Thus every “I” in those quotes ought to be a “me.”

Proper pronoun selection is a reasonable expectation of a former Harvard Law Review editor with two Ivy League degrees under his belt. However, writers Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman suggest it is not our infallible leader, but the overly rigid rules of modern English that require correction.

So should the president go stand in a corner of the Oval Office (if he can find one) and contemplate the error of his ways? Not so fast.

For centuries, it was perfectly acceptable to use either “I” or “me” as the object of a verb or preposition, especially after “and.” Literature is full of examples. Here’s Shakespeare, in “The Merchant of Venice”: “All debts are cleared between you and I.” And here’s Lord Byron, complaining to his half-sister about the English town of Southwell, “which, between you and I, I wish was swallowed up by an earthquake, provided my eloquent mother was not in it.”

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that language mavens began kvetching about “I” and “me.”

Most of us have inexplicable gaps in our education that lead to embarrassing linguistic mistakes. I had almost completed high school before someone told me the “l” in “wolf” isn’t silent. I never made that mistake again.

Now, however, we live in a time when failure is becoming obsolete. Corporations are too big to fail, high school students are graded on a curve, and irresponsible borrowers receive taxpayer-funded subsidies. Why shouldn’t we relax the rules of grammar to accommodate a public official’s ignorance?

For eight years, ridiculing George W. Bush’s semantic errors and grammatical gaffes was a national pastime. Examples of “Bushisms” were painstakingly chronicled in dozens of books and calendars. His most glaring verbal missteps were emblazoned on all manner of merchandise, from tote bags to thongs, and every instance of linguistic incompetence was presented as irrefutable proof of Bush’s general incompetence as President and Commander-in-Chief.

When President Obama screws up, we review Shakespeare for precedent. Apparently he’s too big to fail.


One Response to “Help Wanted: Grammar Czar”

  1. Help Wanted: Grammar Czar - Smart Girl Nation on April 13th, 2009 7:32 pm

    […] following article by Jenn Q. Public originally appeared on image credit: Jenn Q. […]

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