What happened to "me?"


#1

I’m no Grammar Nazi. I’m probably at best described as a lapsed subscriber to grammar monthly, and would mostly just flip through and read the cartoons, but there is a strange grammatical movement afoot that I’m curious about.

Nobody says “Something happened to [name] and me” anymore. It’s just…gone. I first noticed it on reality shows, then on unscripted podcasts, but more recently in scripted television. It’s like there is no such thing as an object of a sentence anymore. There are a few I’ve noticed who seem to recognize that “I” in the object position sounds strange, but they will drop in “myself” rather than stoop to the lowly “me.” Our company’s head of communications dropped this one today, as did Paul F. Tompkins in a live podcast I was listening to just minutes ago. Two classy public speaker/writers in their own right.

I’m not super-duper surprised, as the “No! It’s Timmy and I went to the store” was the earliest, most often and most lustily performed act of Grammar Nazism of my childhood. I don’t know which other generations were subjected to this singular correction.

It’s entirely possible that I don’t completely understand the rule myself. I was only formally exposed to grammar instruction once I started studying languages other than English, but it still rings strange to me.

Anyone else notice this?


#2

This, probably.


#3

I don’t watch much television, but I think that the structures of traditional English grammar are outmoded, and have been for a long time. They function more as ways to stereotype concepts and communication rather than assist in increasing clarity. They’re not unlike Newtonian physics - probably “close enough” for daily use in a common-sense way, but far too limiting to accurately describe the underlying realities. So I think it’s fine when people use these structures, but not when they require them.

As for “me” specifically, I have encountered people online complaining that it connotes a whiny “passive voice”, and hence avoided as a matter of personal taste. I don’t know to what extent this may or not filter into television writing. The whole Hollywood “entertainment industry” strikes me as being rather incestuous and faddish.

I think that people are encouraged to have personal problems and drama in their lives. The human personality really tends to be an insubstantial thing, in many analyses. People talking about the world is more interesting than them talking about themselves.


#4

Spooky. The example in that selected answer was almost exactly the same…

“Hypercorrection”… Ahhh it is satisfying to learn that there’s a word for something…


#5

I and I went to the store to pick up some red stripe, then I and I went home, got irie.


#6

Perhaps people simply lack the vocabulary to talk about grammar.


#7

#8

I recently sent this image to me. Er, to myself.


#9

Paging @Ratel


#10

Well, grammar is about rules, and the rule in English, such as it is, about “X and I/me” is you use the first person singular pronoun that you would use if X wasn’t there. So, going to the store you say “Kim and I went to the store” because you’d say “I went to the store”; if you got caught in the rain, you say “It rained on Cary and me” because if it was just you, you’d say “It rained on me”.

Saying that, there’s no particularly good reason why we shouldn’t use, say, “I” in all circumstances; it would be perfectly comprehensible for Anglophones to say “I went to the store and it rained on I”, as some dialects do. But generally we have “I” and “me” for different uses, so we use them differently. And it makes a certain amount of sense when combining entities as above for the above rule to go the way it does.

Japanese — which I use for an example because it’s the only other language I know much about — uses “watashi” for “I” and “me”, and also “mine”, and the work of labelling it as personal pronoun for active or passive or possessive is put on the suffix: “Watashi wa mise o ikkemashita” is “I went to the store”; “Watashi o ame ga futta” is “It rained on me”; “Watashi no kasa ga arimashita” is “I had my umbrella”. (Note that my Japanese, not good to begin with, is rusty; the preceding might not be be grammatically perfect, and not necessarily colloquial at all.) In each of the preceding cases the phrase “Ekusu to watashi” (“X and me/I”) can be dropped into place instead of “watashi” with no trouble.

On the other hand, the rules that Anglophones might have trouble with in Japanese are the different words for “I/me” depending on familiarity/politeness: “Watashi” is normal/polite, “Watakushi” is archaically formal, “Boku” is familiar, and “Ore” is coarse. English has not-so-much grammatical rules as usage guidelines on politeness and formality, and they vary from population to population anyway, but what you’re seeing with “myself” might be a form of formal “me” that’s developing or decaying from earlier usage patterns. I, myself, see nothing wrong with this.


#11

Yup. Hundreds of subtitled episodes of Bleach and Naruto has trained me to recognize when someone’s a lout, or polite. Naruto almost always uses Boku or Ore, while Hinata’s father (powerful clan leader) uses Watakushi on one occasion.


#12

The other problem we have with Japanese politeness levels is knowing which ones are appropriate for which relationships. We might say that X is our friend when we’ve only worked with them for a couple of years (or weeks, depending), and so can speak to them informally in English; but that doesn’t map directly to Japanese relationships. In Japan, merely working with someone does not mean you can use the informal levels, for example.

It sounds terribly inegalitarian to Western, particularly American, habits of thought, but the formality levels are all about social superiority and inferiority; it might be helpful to think of them only as grammatical strictures, but they’re very real. As foreigners we are inferior to every native Japanese, so we have to be polite to every Japanese we meet, even if we’ve known them for a while. Contrary to the impression we might get from anime, we don’t get to use “boku” unless we’re invited to, even if it’s used to us. And it’s important. Getting it wrong is as bad as calling the President “Barry” or “Baz”. It’s about claiming a familiarity that is not appropriate.


#13

This is the point where I say I like spanish better, since while there are at least two levels of formality while addressing people in spanish, I’ve never met a stickler who insists I address them as usted. Kind of like “sir” vs “you” in english. Using usted comes off as saying something like “would sir be interested in joining me for luncheon”. But I’m sure there’s some subtleties I’m glossing over.

Also “inferior”? That’s beyond inegalitarian. Maybe I’m just an ugly american, (pretty sure I am), but I’d be pretty set on using -san honorifics unless the person I’m addressing is going to do something to me if I don’t use -sama.


#14

@milliefink

How the world fears me.

Yeah, as a kid my father had to specifically teach me that A) “I” is a subject, “me” is an object, B) shitloads of adults were corrected about using “me” as a subject, then started correcting everyone around them for using “me” as an object and C) just smile and nod when they correct you.


#15

Well, that’s fine. For most Japanese using “-san” is only right and proper, that’s the level I’m calling “normal/polite”; but it’s roughly equivalent to “Miss/Mister/Mrs/Ms” in English. For people you work with, “-san” is good; dropping the “-san” would be an informality too far. The person at the next desk is Takeshita-san until you’ve given them a kidney.

“-sama” is for bosses, doctors, professors and other people you’d give at least a modicum of formal respect to in Anglophone societies. Anyone where you’d use “sir” or a professional title would get a “-sama”, not just your socially (slightly) superior. This is the nuance that gets lost on Anglophones because we don’t have the formality as a grammatical rule: there are levels of social superiority. Calling the guy at the next desk Takeshita-sama would be ridiculous, even if you’re a foreigner, or he’s year older than you, or he’s a man and you’re a woman, and if you did it you’d be suspected of taking the piss. It would be as bad as dropping the “-san”.

I’m not saying that this class-consciousness is right, mind you, just that it’s a thing in Japanese society and language more pronounced than present-day Western societies, and it’s not really a hill to die on every day you’re in Japan.


#16

Lots of it is, sure. I work in it, and have for over 20 years. But it’s just a job, and TV writers are no better-educated than any random barista with high-five-figures of college debt. Sometimes much worse. And more often than not, TV and movie writers are going to write the way they hear people speak. Most people aren’t particular sticklers for rules of grammar, and most TV writers don’t see it as their duty to try to improve that situation.

I hear plenty of people (unscripted interviews of celebrities, random dorks on the street, whomever) say something like “She was on a cruise with my sister and I when the virus broke out,” and I know they’re thinking that “me” sounds less proper than “I” in that context, even though they have it exactly backwards. The rule is as simple one, as @Nelsie noted above, but people can’t be troubled to remember it. Oh, well.


#17

I is the 9th letter of the alphabet.
I am going to take a little me time.
Don’t eye me boy!


#18

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