April 26th, 2006
Hey for hi / how fun is that / object or subject?
by Barbara Wallraff
Geraldine Kortas, of Southgate, Mich., writes: “Can you explain why show business is attempting to change from ‘hi’ to ‘hey’ the term of address we use when meeting someone casually? One actress in a movie made for television actually said ‘hi’ in reply to a ‘hey.’ I guess they thought it too expensive to reshoot the scene, so they left it in.”
Dear Geraldine: I’m afraid that horse has been out of the barn for years. And movies and television didn’t turn “hey” loose; their dialogue just reflects the way ordinary people talk.
Anita Turner, of Bangor, Maine, writes: “Since when has the word ‘fun’ been used like this: ‘How fun is that?’ and ‘That was way fun’? The terminology I learned, way back when, was ‘How much fun is that?’ and ‘That was so much fun.’”
Dear Anita: This is another horse that’s out of the barn. Way back when, “fun” was a noun and only a noun -- like, say, “trouble.” (“How much trouble is that?”) But then people started saying things like “That was a fun party!” (“That was a trouble party”? Uh, no.) That is, people began using “fun” as an adjective. Now adjective uses are fairly common, though they’re informal -- as I suppose befits fun stuff.
Mike Malachowski, of Albany, N.Y., writes: “Please consider the sentences ‘Bill knows Jane and me’ and ‘Jane and I like to swim.’ When separate, the syntax seems pretty clear: ‘me’ is an object in the first sentence, and ‘I’ is a subject in the second sentence. But when I string them together, which is correct: ‘Bill knows Jane and I like to swim’ or ‘Bill knows Jane and me like to swim’?”
Dear Mike: “Jane and I like to swim” is a subordinate clause, or a sentence within a sentence. Bill knows something -- and what is it? He knows (that) Jane and I like to swim. In this case, the object of the verb is not just “Jane and me”; it’s the whole sentence about us swimmers. The grammar of smaller elements like subordinate clauses is supposed to remain intact when another element like “Bill knows” is added.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.