Between You and I

I went to bed an hour ago and have been laying there with my mind buzzing. So what better thing to do than to get up and write the blog post that I was composing in my head amongst all the buzzing. It’s always with the imagined monologues in my head: made up scenarios, what I’m going to say to such-and-such tomorrow, how I’m going to fit a computer in the Post Office for public net access, etc.

This was inspired by Merlin Mann’s excellent video series, Most Days, where he’s making a video, well, most days, and posting it on Vimeo. It was a small thing that he said and it got me thinking of a whole blog post that I could dedicate to this little common grammar mistake.

[Most Days]

First, some background. I was a translator for a long time before I switched jobs. A large part of my job involved proofreading documents. So, as you will imagine, my written English had to be exceptionally good. That now leaves me in the unfortunate position of being bothered by mistakes. Split infinitives on news broadcasts (without getting in to the whole debate as to whether infinitives should or should not be split) cause me (and my wife, who shared my profession) to take a sharp intake a breath through clenched teeth. And don’t even get me started on apostrophes; it’s like they’re out to get me, seriously. And it’s like Alex Lindsay with the blocking in compressed video files: once you see them, you can’t unsee them.

Now, I know that Merlin knows his mistake. I’ve read his writings in various places on the web, including his excellent productivity blog at 43folders.com. His style is excellent. It’s not quite up there with Stephen Fry (you know, Stephen Fry of Black Adder and the excellent intellectual quiz show QI – a bigger Apple fan boy and gadget freak you will be hard pressed to find. Go ahead and read [his blog] to see what I mean) but it’s a very good style nevertheless.

The phrase in question was this: “Uncle Jack took John and I to see Star Wars”. This is such a common mistake that it’s almost no longer a mistake, which gets us into the debate as to whether grammar should be prescriptive or descriptive. Of course you, dear readers, all know that it should be “Uncle Jack took John and me to see Star Wars”. The pronoun follows a transitive verb and so takes the accusative case. You would never say, for example, “Uncle Jack took I to see Star Wars”, so why would you say… “took John and I”. That’s the trick to figuring out what it ought to be by the way: take out the other person and leave yourself in there and then see whether I or me makes more sense.

It’s so common a mistake that a grammar-nerd book of pedantry entitled “Between You and I” was published.  It’s pretty good.

So there you have it. Was that worth getting out of bed for? Well, I was just laying there anyway and my comment on Merlin’s video probably seemed a little flippant so I shall direct him to this and see if he cares or

not. Probably not. It’s generally only sad people like me that are kept awake by these things. You’re all the lucky ones. At least Alex sees blocking only when he’s watching video. I hear and see grammar horrors everywhere!

Comments

  1. Steve Betz says:

    [this is good] Hah — I don’t know if you’ve seen the flaps caused by Roberts and Obama stumbling their way through the inaugural oath when it comes to the phrase “to faithfully execute”… pretty funny stuff.

    I read and review scientific manuscripts all the time and the (mis)use of grammar is sometimes brutal.  I know that often the writers aren’t native English speakers, but I have sent some papers back with the recommendation to hire a copy editor for a day.