Thursday, May 6, 2010

NY LOVES ME, ME, ME, ME. . . . .

Today I was walking through the normal crush of students on the quad right before school, and I heard one voice above the rest say to her friend, “Yeah, me and him are goin’ after school.” Unfortunately, all English teachers respond to such phrasing reflexively, and I have been known to be half-listening in meetings or social gatherings only to suddenly wake up at the sound of a grammar gaffe, and, before I can stop myself, yell out a correction. 
Today, when I heard the grating “ME AND HIM. . .,”  I did not place a hand on the student's shoulder and gently offer the corrective, “He and I.”  Instead, I had what I think was an epiphany about WHY this particular grammatical problem is so pervasive in our culture.  
The problem lies in the difference between subject and object. Here is what I tell my students (and remember, by high-school, it’s really last-chance grammar, hence the informality): 
 “ 'I' is always a subject; ‘I’ always DOES the verb, even if the verb is just a state of being: I am, I run, I eat chocolate, I love you! ‘I’asserts a self and acts! ‘Me,’ on the other hand, is NEVER a subject. ‘Me’ is ALWAYS an object. ‘Me’ never does anything. Can you ever say (and I say this in my best Bronx meets cavewoman accent),‘Me go to movies, me like you, me happy?’” 

The kids laugh and laugh, and I think I have made the point. Yet, even without walking through the quad at break time, even in my own classroom after what I think has been my brilliant grammar lesson (as if), I still hear the "me" as subject gaffe peppering the teen-age conversations around me. So what’s up?
The Me-Generation may be behind us but the detritus of all those love-thyself-above-all-others movements still haunts us, and, I posit, has irreparably changed our way of thinking about ourselves and our relationship to the world around us. 
These days it’s all about what’s good FOR ME! But look closely at this construction. “Me” is the object of the preposition “for.”  In fact, “me” is often the object of prepositions: He looks LIKE ME; the story is ABOUT ME; I want you to be WITH ME. Object city! The “me” gaffe reveals how teens, hell, many in our culture, tend to see themselves: as inactive, complacent objects at the center of the action-- not as subjects who act on things and assert a self by doing or being.
“I” rarely starts the simple declarative sentence anymore and is instead usually used incorrectly at the end of a sentence, as if to strengthen the notion of one's deserving: “That gift is for her and I” or “That is a portrait of him and I” or “Let’s keep this a secret between you and I!” Here, "me" just is not strong enough. One needs an "I," a more active recipient.

It turns out the Me-Generation has not empowered people as much as it has rendered them passive objects. My pal in New York capped this notion for me just today. She writes: “Remember the old “I love (heart symbol) NY” t-shirts? Well, the latest t-shirt sported around town says, “NY loves ( heart symbol) ME.” Methinks that sayeth it all.

15 comments:

  1. I must admit that I am one of those people. The only way I wont make a mistake is if I say the sentence to myself in Spanish. No matter how many times it is explained to me, it is so hard to remember in English. Odd, since English is my first language.

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  2. Don't sweat it! Everyone makes mistakes. What's interesting is whether these mistakes may reveal more than surface significance.

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  3. I have actually never thought about your theory, even though I've though about why people use it so often. Maybe I missed something, but I still don't understand why people would use "I" as a direct object.

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  4. This made my day! Thank you for this. I see it all the time.

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  5. Great essay! You're a great grammar teacher. - 10th grade Yula boys.

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  6. Eric and Me love you're essay. Your a great English teacher!

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  8. me loves this class so much

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  10. what a great message you're conveying over here.
    love it

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  11. chocolate enrobed doughnuts are delicious!

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