Withnail and I and Me Myself Personally

I expect I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here as you’re all terribly literate bods but I’m sure you’ve noticed, just as I have, that there’s an increasing tendency for people to say I when it should be me.  ‘Something happened along the way to my friend and I,’ they say; and I want to scream, ‘No it didn’t!  Something happened along the way to my friend and me!!!’  This is what’s known as hyper-correction; the mistaken belief that a correct construction is wrong because it sounds like an incorrect one.  Like, for example, saying ‘slither’ instead of ‘sliver’ in the mistaken impression that the word has suffered from some sort of Cockney takeover from which it must be rescued forthwith.

It’s very straightforward really.  ‘I’ is the subject of the sentence, the person doing whatever it is – but if something happens to them, the ‘I’ becomes ‘me.’  Hence it’s ‘I, Claudius’ because Claudius is speaking about himself as the subject of the action, the doer (and yes, I know a lot of things happen to him but that is not the point of the title; the title makes him the subject of the book, not its object.)  Conversely, it’s a #metoo movement, not an #Itoo movement precisely because it’s about things that have happened to me that were not of my doing.  Withnail and I have come on holiday by mistake; but on this mistaken holiday a number of things happened to Withnail and Me.

But you don’t even have to delve into grammar to get this.  There’s a very simple test: just go back to the original sentence and take away my friend.  You wouldn’t say ‘a funny thing happened to I,’ would you?  Because you’d sound like a Rastafarian and only a Rastafarian should do that.  So why do so many people make this mistake?  I think it’s because something takes over when you hear yourself say ‘my friend and…’ and supplies the word ‘I’ as sounding correct; just as in the brain of some people an ‘s’ always implies an apostrophe.

Here endeth the lesson…

Kirk out

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2 thoughts on “Withnail and I and Me Myself Personally

  1. A certain mutual acquaintance who gave us and others a lot of trouble a few years ago before they got help used to say “I” in the accusative, and I felt it reflected their intense desire to be accepted and conform which I think was a factor in the deterioration of their mental health. Hypercorrection is not confined to language – they wanted to be hypercorrect socially and it did them no good at all.

    There’s a similar quibble in Scandinavian, because like us they use the accusative form for emphasis, but in Gaidhlig they just have emphatic and non-emphatic versions of the pronouns, a bit like French te and toi.

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