to be hypercorrect is not the same as to be correct


“See, it says here…”

Since his election, the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers for using “I” instead of “me” in phrases like “a very personal decision for Michelle and I” or “the main disagreement with John and I” or “graciously invited Michelle and I.”

Well! Little did I know this, or I’d surely have been among those bloggers. But because I’m in London, and a “holiday American” (that is, I rarely even go there on holiday), to be brutally honest I had no idea the Otherwise Untarnished One even did that heinous thing. (GW Bush did make me laugh every time he said “nucular. ” It was so perfect, it was a particular kind of happiness.)

I got this more troubling information, via Stacey from Best American Poetry (Thanks Stace), from the New York Times. The article itself troubled me deeply for much of its duration, as it seemed to be about to say it was all right to talk like this because the Old Will used to do it – apparently there is an instance of it in The Merchant of Venice. I had my riposte half written.

This is because, guys, it can never be okay. The reason why this is the case is that we are not living in the time of Shakespeare. (Surprise!) Even though it was only in (what the NYT calls) the 1800s that “people started kvetching” about this usage, which I suppose makes it still relatively recent, the point is that we are living after that time and usage has changed since… but you see… no one needed me to say all that.

In 1869 the usage was even featured in a book called Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech.

As to the “scofflaws” like the new president, it is easily explained. There is a linguistic term for their condition, which is based on childhgood trauma:

…they were scolded as children for saying things like “Me want candy” instead of “I want candy,” so they began to think “I” was somehow more socially acceptable. Or maybe it’s because they were admonished against “it’s me.” Anybody who’s had “it is I” drummed into his head is likely to avoid “me” on principle, even when it’s right. The term for this linguistic phenomenon is “hypercorrection.”

Because, see, even the Victorians wanted you to think about why you were saying it – what you were saying – before you followed some cockamamy rule.

The other day there was an article in the Guardian, I forget what it as now, with a standfirst that ended: “but for who?” Bloody illiterates.

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