Categories
Writing

Sometimes so-and-so and me is okay.

Overcorrection.

It’s a natural human inclination. If you throw me a heavy ball I catch in my right hand and then throw me a heavy ball I catch in my left hand, I will lean right, lean left, and then balance myself to the middle eventually.

There was a time (I want to say it was the early 1980s) when everyone I knew said so-and-so and me regardless of whether it was appropriate for the sentence or not: Jill and me went to the comic book convention on Saturday or Bill and me lost our virginity on the doorstep of my parents’ house. Then I guess some hoity-toity wanna-be grammarians kept chastising others with “No, it’s so-and-so and I,” and eventually, instead of learning that it depends on the structure of the sentence, people learned that it was always so-and-so and I instead of so-and-so and me. Now, twenty years later, almost every college graduate I know who is between the ages of 22 and 35 will say so-and-so and I even if the sentence warrants a so-and-so and me.

Here’s a quick lesson for those who don’t want to burn my ears. So-and-so and I is just a more specific way of saying we. So-and-so and me is just a more specific way of saying us. So substitute in we or us as necessary and see if the sentence sounds funny to you.

Examples
That was just a secret between Michelle and I
Lawn bowling is something Gertrude and I enjoy doing every Saturday
Hester gave a thoughtful gift to Edith and I
Grace and I wanted to play bridge but couldn’t find the cards

Okay. Let’s substitute in we or us and see how the sentences sound now.

That was just a secret between we (wrong)
Lawn bowling is something we enjoy doing every Saturday (right)
Hester gave a thoughtful gift to we (wrong)
We wanted to play bridge but couldn’t find the cards (right).

Some people also recommend removing the so-and-so to see how ridiculous the sentence sounds (e.g., That was just a secret between I or That was just a secret between me), but that doesn’t preserve the meaning of the sentence, so I prefer substituting in we and us instead.

It’s not that complicated, really. So-and-so and I is the same as we, and so-and-so and me is the same as us. If you can keep we and us straight, you should know when to use I and me appropriately with a so-and-so.

Categories
Writing

The noun disconnect

The English language changes. It’s a fact of life. Much as grammarians and pedants would love for it to stay the same, it changes. I understand that change is inevitable—I don’t have to like the change, though.

I have finally embraced the verb impact, and I still cringe when someone says something was [insert adverb] unique (e.g., really unique, very unique, so unique). I realize, of course, I’m fighting an uphill battle. I’m not quite as extreme as some are, though. I don’t impose arbitrary grammar “rules” (no split infinitives, no ending a sentence with a preposition).

Shifts in usage irk me if I see no logical reason for them. I’m okay with calling stewards and stewardesses flight attendants, as it apparently gives their job more dignity, and it also saves me the trouble of distinguishing genders. I’m okay with people using the term sick to substitute for what used to be phat, bad, tubular, or groovy. Every generation has to have its “cool” words.

Why did, after Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas, harassment suddenly shift from being harassment to harassment? Why in 2002 did people start using the word disconnect as a noun? I swear before 2002 I had never heard a single soul say “There was a disconnect between….” All of a sudden, the past six years, I can’t go a month without hearing someone say “There was a disconnect” or seeing the phrase written in a blog or news article. I get a mental shiver every time I hear it.

I never thought I’d be a “Good old days…” person, but I do miss the days of disconnect as a verb, which I rarely hear now. Could you please disconnect the phone?

Categories
Education Writing

Efficient communication is a worthy goal

There are two instances in which I have had this jumbled-word paragraph brought to my attention:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

(The original source is here, but the server appears to be down right now.)

The first time was when I was still an English teacher. One of my students, after having gone through a rather rigorous unit on grammar thought it was amusing. When I shared it with my co-planning teacher, he said he’d rather have shards of glass stuck in his eyes than read papers written that way.

The second time was on the Ubuntu Forums, and a forum member thought a few of us (who occasionally correct others’ grammar or spelling when we just can’t take it any more) were being pedantic, so she or he saw fit to show us that spelling doesn’t really matter.

Here’s the thing, though: as my former colleague pointed out with his exaggeration about shards of glass, just because you can read something doesn’t mean you want to read it the way it’s presented.

After all, I can watch fuzzy black-and-white television on a four-inch screen while I constantly push the antennae around in futile attempts to get better reception, and still hear all the dialogue and understand what’s going on in the movie or television show I’m viewing. I can also listen to third-generation mix tapes that have had two decades of deterioration and still “hear” the music I’m listening to.

Nevertheless, I somehow still like clear pictures in HD on large screens that have digital surround sound and also still prefer to listen to CD-quality recordings of music. The same goes for language and communication. Grammar and spelling conventions and rules don’t exist just to make your life miserable—they actually are around because consensus gives meaning to words, phrases, syntax, and punctuation. If you follow the established guidelines, you don’t leave it up to your reader to make meaning of what you’ve said; you convey the meaning to your reader. Good writing is like an HD-quality movie or a CD-quality song.

That doesn’t mean we have to fly off the deep end and nitpick grammar points that don’t matter (split infinitives or misuse of the terms compose and comprise, for example), but it does mean we should strive to be understood most efficiently, with the fewest words, and with the least amount of work on the part of the reader.