March 5th, 2008
How correct is too correct? / more on I and me
by Barbara Wallraff
Amy Krauss Roy, of Grosse Pointe, Mich., writes: “How do you handle it when you’re faced with the choice of either sounding correct or actually using correct grammar or pronunciation and sounding ignorant or affected? For instance, do you correctly pronounce the ‘teeya’ at the end of ‘poinsettia’ instead of the common ‘ta’? What about correctly using ‘me’ instead of ‘I’ in the case of ‘... gave books to Katie and me’? Listen to the radio or sit in a meeting at work and it’s clear that most people have no idea that ‘I’ isn’t always correct. I don’t like the thought of others cringing when they hear me say something they think is incorrect but that I know to be proper usage or pronunciation.”
Dear Amy: If everybody else jumped off a cliff ... In language as in everything else, we have to make our own decisions. So I pronounce “poinsettia” with all four syllables and say “me” where it’s grammatically correct. If people who do otherwise notice, maybe they’ll wonder whether I know something they don’t.
Debra Wells, of Windsor, Ontario, writes: “I want to comment on your answer to a recent ‘I’ versus ‘me’ question. As I have always understood it: ‘You bump heads with me’ -- yes. However, it would be ‘You bump heads with someone as big and tough as I (am),’ the word in parentheses being understood.”
Dear Debra: That’s a perfectly good way to look at it, but it’s not the only one. I was taking my cue from my beloved H.W. Fowler’s “Modern English Usage.” It gives as correct examples “Never was so active a man as he” and “I never knew so active a man as him,” and says the difference arises because the man is the subject of the first sentence and the object of the second. Fowler argues, “To ban this construction and insist on writing ‘he’ always ... seems pedantic, though ‘he’ is always admissible.” I figure if Fowler -- the grammarians’ grammarian, writing in the 1920s -- considers something pedantic and therefore undesirable, it is.
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