Battle of (the right) words
STORY SUMMARY »
Is it me and him, or she and you, or them and us? Or none? Or is it circumstantial, dependent on the prepositional, causational diagram of the sentence-ational?
This is grammar of which we speak, and serious stuff to those who (or is it whom?) consider words and their use (or is it usage?) to be of preeminent import (or is it importance?).
Over these notions many battles can be picked.
Professional communicators Charles Memminger, who uses grammar on occasion as a Star-Bulletin columnist, and Doug Carlson, author of "Me and Him Are Killing English" and therefore a heavy-duty grammarian, toss a few pronouns back and forth in today's "Honolulu Lite. Extra."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Doug Carlson's new book, "Me and Him Are Killing English!," is available at most bookstores.
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OK, students, please diagram the following sentence: "Me and him was fighting and he drug me from one end of that trailer to the other by my hair."
I think "fighting" is the verb. And "was" is some kind of a verb, too, but it doesn't look quite right where it is. And "drug" is either a verb or an illegal substance. Or maybe "hair" is the subject. "Me" and "him" are either pronouns or pro wrestlers. And I think there's a prepositional phrase lurking in there somewhere. Never mind. Who diagrams sentences anymore anyway?
All I know is that I was talking to communications expert Doug Carlson the other day, and me and him were conversatin' on the misuse of the English language and, weeellll doggies, for someone in the communications line Doug's a right picky rascal, as Jed Clampett might say.
For instance, when you are talking about people and you say "me and him" or "me and her," well, for Doug that's like scraping fingernails over the sunburned back of a baby. He plugs his ears with his fingers and screams like a Guantanamo Bay English teacher.
In fact, Doug got so riled he upped and wrote an entire book complaining about people he thinks are killing English by saying "me and him." The title of the book -- wait for it -- is "Me and Him Are Killing English!"
Carlson, owner and proprietor of Comma'Aina Communications, is something of a specialist when it comes to getting honked off at the way language is folded, spindled and mutilated these days. The thing that really gets his Dockers in a knot is the misuse of PRONOUNS. I know, when was the last time you heard someone even use the word "pronoun"?
A pronoun, surprisingly, is not a "professional noun," but a linguistic conceit that allows us to talk about people or things without having to call those people or things by what they actually are. Because if we did, we would all talk like this:
"Dougie went to Dougie's house to get Dougie's baseball bat, but Dougie couldn't find Dougie's baseball bat because Dougie's baseball bat has been stolen by some crazy chick who lives in a trailer down the road so the chick could crack her boyfriend Billy upside the head with Dougie's baseball bat for drugging the crazy chick from one end of the trailer to the other by her hair."
Now, it would make a lot more sense just to sprinkle around a few pronouns in that sentence like "his," "its" or "hers" and even more sense for Dougie to just move the hell out of that neighborhood.
Doug (not to be confused with Dougie) will tell you that there are all kinds of pronouns like "personal pronouns," "objective personal pronouns," "subversive pronouns," "hyperactive semipersonal pronouns" bla, bla, bla ... I mean, the guy just won't shut up about pronouns.
Being a generalist, I tend to get honked off about all kinds of English language faux pas, chief of which is when you throw French words into a perfectly good English sentence.
The current hip phrase that drives me crazy is "My bad!" (The fact that I think it's currently hip likely means it is as passé as, well, "passé.") When I hear someone say, "My bad!" I want to drug them from one end of a trailer to the other by their hair and then beat the crap out of them with Dougie's baseball bat.
"My bad!" means "Sorry! That was my mistake!" It is employed because overuse of letters in the English language apparently is causing global climate change, and by using "My Bad!" instead of "Sorry! That was my mistake!" the speaker is saving 16 letters and possibly the planet.
Most people who say, "My bad!" are idiots who wear their hats on backward and their pants around their knees, or their attorneys. They don't realize that "My bad!" was invented by William Shakespeare. Really. This is a true fact. Not a fake one. I learned after an exhaustive three-minute Internet investigation that in the 16th century, Shakespeare wrote in his Sonnet 112: "For what care I who calls me well or ill; So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?"
To which drama critics of the time raved, "Huh?"
Aside from the "My bad!" and pronoun offenses, our language is rife with enough outrages to excite the most sedate or sedated language teacher. There's the whole "who, whom, that, which, effect, affect" problem. Nobody -- and by nobody I mean, well, me -- knows when to use "which" for "that" and "who" for "whom" and whether to say "affect" merely for the effect of it. I'm not angry enough to write a book about it, but anger is what drove Doug Carson to publish "Me and Him Are Killing English!"
"You hear it everywhere," he said. "Me and him here, me and her there. I couldn't take it anymore. At some point you have to draw the line. If you speak this way in the business environment, you are doing yourself and the business a lot of harm."
That is so true. Unless, I guess, you are in the drug-dealing business. Then proper pronoun usage might get you whacked as an undercover cop or strange English teacher.
(For the record, there are really only two rules to using personal pronouns correctly: 1) If you are talking about a buddy and you doing something, be polite and mention, or implicate, your buddy first. 2) If you are unsure about whether to use him, her, I, me, etc., break the sentence into two sentences and the answer will be obvious. "Me and him went to the scene of the homicide" becomes "HE went to the scene of the homicide" and "I went to the scene of the homicide." Meshed back together it becomes "He and I went to the scene of the homicide," which, though grammatically correct, led to their arrest and conviction.)
As someone who works with business leaders to increase the communications skills of their future ex-employees, Doug hopes his little book will become the bible of business. Or at least one of the books in the Business Bible. Something to tide CEOs over until Doug gets so upset about some other abuse of the language he plugs his ears and yells, "My mad. My VERY mad."
"Me and Him Are Killing English" is available in most bookstores or online at KillingEnglish.blogspot.com. Cost is $5, plus $2 shipping.
Buy Charles Memminger's hilarious new book, "Hey, Waiter, There's An Umbrella In My Drink!" at island book stores or online
at any book retailer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org