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March 24th, 2004

Making or taking decisions / to you and me or to you and I?

by Barbara Wallraff

Deeder McDaniel, of Los Angeles, writes: “Unlike most people I know, my boss never makes decisions or attends meetings—he ‘takes’ them. He also expresses opinions ‘around’ things and occasionally ‘can’t speak to’ an issue. I feel as if I’m in a parallel universe every time he makes a presentation.”

And you are! You’ve fallen through a wormhole into the realm of business jargon. To be fair, jargon has its uses. If, for instance, you repaired bicycles for a living, you’d want to talk with your co-workers about gears and rims and sprockets. Why? Because it gets old really fast to say “the toothlike projections on the wheel rim that engage the links of the chain” when you can just say “sprockets” instead. Jargon comes in handy as shorthand among specialists—whether their specialty is bicycle repair, language, medicine, baking, or business.

Unfortunately, your boss doesn’t seem to be using jargon that way. Instead, he’s using it the way some people use fancy brands of clothes: to set themselves apart from more ordinary folk. This goes over well enough with other people who are wearing fancy brands, but it tends to annoy the heck out of “more ordinary” people.

Keep your eyes open at those presentations and try to get a sense of whether your boss’s use of language actually does make a good impression on the other people who are there. If so, maybe you should start “taking” meetings too—not because it’s good English but just to blend in. If I were you, I’d be willing to go that far, but I’d draw the line at spouting things I didn’t understand. In a survey conducted in 2001 in Britain, 20 percent of the office workers polled said they used trendy American business expressions to impress colleagues even when they weren’t sure what the expressions meant. That’s silly!

Eleanor Forish, of Rochester Hills, Mich., writes, “Which is correct: ‘She sent a letter to you and me’ or ‘She sent a letter to you and I’? I always use ‘me,’ but I hear and read others using ‘I.’”

And Marion Hardwick, of Albany, N.Y., writes, “Even news commentators use ‘between you and I.’ Should we just give up on grammar or is there any hope?”

Let’s keep hoping. Using “me” and “I” correctly isn’t even hard to do. It would never occur to anyone to say “She sent a letter to I”—so why does adding in “you” throw so many people off? Eleanor, of course you’re right that the letter should be sent “to you and me.”

“Between you and me” is trickier, but not much. What’s tricky is that neither “between me” nor “between I” makes any sense, so you can’t simply lop out the “you” to find which pronoun to use. But everyone says “just between us,” not “just between we.” “Me” is an object, like “us”—so “us” equals “you and me,” not “you and I.” That’s all there is to it.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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