Just between you and me . . . I know we're supposed to pick our battles. I did. You've just read the opening salvo.
It's a battle about you and me and when I becomes me. Here's a hint: It's never about you and I.
Please don't get me wrong - I'm not a grammar purist or an intellectual elitist. I'm all for colloquial talk and casual dialogue. I even occasionally end sentences with prepositions to avoid awkward formalism. I don't correct friends or colleagues who are kind enough to invite me to "come along with Harry and I" to wherever they're headed.
But I've been tempted.
The proverbial straw that launched this diatribe happened recently when I walked into a store blasting One Direction's song "You and I." It kept repeating the line "Nothing can come between you and I." Well, I'm afraid I must.
I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was really "Nothing can come between [us (mumbled)]. You and I . . ." I went home to look up the lyrics, and found another song with the same problem.
Yeah, yeah, I know about poetic license and all that. Except: When we were kids, we often heard our me changed to I. "Me want cookie." Ha-ha. "I want a cookie, please." For all too many of us little monsters, however, the correction stuck without understanding the context and adjusting the case accordingly.
For the record, I should be used as the subject. Me is the object.
He loves me; he loves me not (not I).
I gave the raise to him (not he).
He gave the raise to me (not I).
Similarly, prepositions - like between, with, and about - take objects, not subjects.
He told lies about Khari and me (not I).
The boss asked for Melissa and me (not I).
Of course, we need to be flexible. Language morphs. I get that. Therefore I expend great effort to ignore spelling errors and word misuse (then/than and there'll/they'll, etc.) in documents that don't really matter.
This issue probably wouldn't irritate me so much, except that so often, when I hear the objective use of I, it is accompanied by an edgy emphasis or elongation of the I-i-i-i-i-i. It hits my ears as, "See, I am sophisticated and am speaking properly." There's an attitude. Smugness.
It also irritates me that many of these folks are professional educators and community leaders. The implication - perhaps my paranoid extrapolation - is that I'm talking trash and never learned any better.
Actually, it's in the study of foreign languages, more than in English grammar, where such rules come to life and make sense. So I try to chalk my irritation up to my comparatively privileged academic experiences and shake it off.
But it's hard to do that in today's judgmental world. Some friends recently shared the viral Donna the Deer Lady videos. I heard great sport among arrogant people deriding the intellect of a naïve and guileless voice. I believe there's a difference in how we should treat the underlying joke and the person (whether real or actor) who doesn't understand.
Smugness is best saved for friendly games of Scrabble or tennis, where the competitors mutually value each other's talents and the jabs are reciprocal. People whose self-esteem is in part funded by demeaning the intelligence of others may themselves be naïve about the height of their own achievement and depth of their capacity.
I wonder how many of them would deign to have a cup of coffee with Donna or me?
Ann L. Rappoport is a freelance writer and consultant in Cheltenham Township.