What is wrong with this sentence? "I came up with this idea when me and my best friend dressed up for Halloween one year." (spoken by a television host, October 2007)
There is an epidemic spreading in this country, affecting those in their youthful prime: the under-35-year-old crowd. The outbreak seems to have crept into our midst slyly, eluding the notice of those people who love and nourish these young victims. Even the afflicted do not realize that they are indeed weakened by this scourge.
What is it? These bright, normal young people have developed a mysterious syndrome that affects their speaking habits, causing chronic pronoun misuse. Listen to the twenty- and thirty-somethings around you — even the college-educated ones. Somewhere in their development, they failed to progress beyond the 5-year-old's substitution of an objective pronoun in the subjective pronoun's place: "Daddy, her hit me."
Does this sound impossible? Here are some actual examples: "Him and his sister have a speech problem," said a local radio host.
"I feel really, really good about the work that me and Alison did," remarked a fashion designer on television.
"It's sort of bittersweet because I have to cancel the drive out to Montana that me and Ben had planned for August," wrote a third-year law school student in an otherwise well-written e-mail.
And here is one from a Charleston Post and Courier book review (Dec. 24, 2006):
"If you want to see how fragile gender equity is, ask a working woman who does more of the housework: her or her husband?"
Her does, of course.
Why is this sloppy talk coming out of the mouths of educated people? True, millions of Americans use poor grammar. Generations of children have modeled their speech after the incorrect examples spoken by their parents. If a parent says "ain't," the child will say "ain't." But I'm not talking about the children who have not had the opportunity to copy proper speech. I am hearing botched pronoun use from those who have attended excellent schools and have been reared by literate parents.
Have parents been neglecting to correct their children when grammar mistakes occur? Have teachers become nearly deaf to the sound of "Me and him."?
I fear that sit-com television and hip-hop culture have drenched us in poor grammar, and it is becoming difficult for our youth to swim out of it. We hear pronoun misuse so much that we have become used to it. Our children hear it and believe that it is correct. It seems to have become a type of youth slang, making the pronoun abuser subconsciously feel at ease and part of the group. But it is wrong, and its use makes the adult speaker sound childish and stupid.
How can we fix this decline in the English language? Most of us would be uncomfortable correcting an adult who has just said, "Me and him are going in an hour." But if the speaker is your child or student, speak up! By ignoring poor pronoun use, we let our youthful grammar transgressor think his speech is acceptable. He may reply, "Everybody talks this way." He will be handicapped, however, when he goes to an important job interview, or is required to write an article or a business letter.
If you are reading this and are wondering what I am talking about, listen to yourself. If you start a sentence with "me," stop. Of course, the example given at the beginning of this letter shows that incorrect pronouns can appear anywhere in a sentence. But it is unlikely that "me" will ever be correct as the first word.
Listen to people whom you respect and know are educated and intelligent.
The old rule that your teacher should have taught you is this: If you can't decide which is correct, "Bob and me went there" or "Bob and I went there," take Bob out of the picture. "Me went there" or "I went there"? Hearing it this way lets you know that "I" is the right choice.
Parents and teachers, let's help our young people sound as intelligent as we know they are. You and I are aware that we need to cure this plague of pronoun perversion. Correct your children. You'll be doing them a valuable favor.
NANCY I. ROMNESSWhite Heron LaneNancy Romness taught school for 17 years.