Me and him are killing English
Disregard correct spoken English at your own risk if you hope to advance professionally
IT'S nearly impossible to go through a day without being an ear-witness to murder. People everywhere are killing English as we were taught to speak it.
If you're paying attention, you hear language used incorrectly throughout society -- among pop stars, athletes, barristas (the people who make your lattes), shopkeepers and sales associates, college and high school students, politicians, journalists, and perhaps most regrettably of all, within our own families.
Where you don't hear it is among senior executives and managers and among accomplished academics.
People of all ages butcher their pronouns. They use "me and her" and "him and her" and "me and them" and "us and them" when what's called for is "she and I" and "he and she" and "they and I" and "we and they."
Why should you and I (not "me and you") care about this? Isn't it enough for the listener to understand, generally, what the speaker means?
It depends on whether you want to go through life sounding ill-educated, whether you'll be satisfied to climb only to a low rung on the ladder of corporate success and no higher, and whether mediocre marks in school are OK with you.
This much should be obvious: Correct language use is essential for career advancement in business and for social acceptance among people in all walks of life who've made it --- at least in part because they know how to speak well.
"You're an elitist snob!" say those who think grammar is for suckers and breaking the rules is cool. And let's face it: Didn't you feel just a little naughty the last time you used "ain't" in educated company?
But once career advancement and social acceptance are more important than being hip, proper language use is a no-brainer.
PEOPLE consistently misuse the language for a variety of reasons. Maybe they never learned proper use in the first place or have forgotten. Some do it deliberately for effect, or they follow the lead of pop-culture role models and their peers.
The first explanation is forgivable. We're all on life's learning team, and it's never too late to clean up your act.
But if the other explanations apply to you, don't be surprised if the promotions you want badly never happen. The way you mangle the language undoubtedly plays a role when someone else gets the coveted job.
Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone in business leadership say:
» "Me and my staff are holding a retreat this weekend."
» "Her and me can't seem to find common ground."
» "Me and them will have no comment until we read the complaint."
We'll go out on a limb and suggest you've never heard a business leader talk like that. Why? Because business leaders know better.
Maybe they paid attention in grammar class, had overbearing parents who drilled them on correct English, or maybe they simply let go of their old habits in adulthood.
Whatever the cause, they know which words go where in a sentence -- which pronouns are used for the person about which something is said or done (the subject) and which are used elsewhere to show who received the action of the sentence's verb. (In the sentence "She gave me the book," "she" is a subject pronoun, and "me" is an object pronoun.)
Even if you racked up more Z's than B's in English class, it should be obvious that the following sentences, reworded from above, are the correct expressions:
» "My staff and I are holding a retreat this weekend."
» "She and I can't seem to find common ground."
» "They and I (or "We") will have no comment until we read the complaint."
You see the difference, don't you? Can you feel the difference? The second set of sentences uses pronouns properly.
MOST of us have heard correct English spoken enough to know right from wrong. Why, then, do so many of us insist on picking the wrong pronouns, choosing "me" instead of "I" and "him" instead of "he" for the subject?
The theory here is that wrong usage has snowballed to and beyond critical mass. Inept grammar is literally everywhere. Parents smile at their kids' mangled pronouns rather than correct them.
Friends and associates ignore the misuse, too, either because making corrections seems impolite or because they talk the same way and don't know the difference.
How widespread is this? A good Internet search engine can return hundreds of thousands of examples in less than a second.
DISPLAYING disregard for proper English repeatedly, with "him" and "me" and "her" used incorrectly without end, reveals ignorance or indifference to the importance of communicating well.
And though it may seem unfair, it may be a window into your personal habits -- revealing perhaps laziness in attending to details. If that's the impression you create, it can't be good for your business career.
It may be true that everybody knows what you mean when you say, "Me and him will be in the conference room." But when you talk like that, business people who can help or hinder your career know much more than which room you'll be in.
They also know you're a sloppy talker whose speech is embarrassingly un-businesslike. They might wonder about your education and upbringing -- putting yourself ahead of others as you do.
And because the evidence suggests sloppy talkers don't go far in business, they also know that where you are in the organization now is probably where you'll stay.
It's not too late to change.
Doug Carlson is a media consultant with experience in newspaper and broadcast journalism and corporate communications management. This essay is taken from his new book, "Me and Him Are Killing English! Speech Habits that Can Doom Business and Education Success." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org