Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The power of you and me

The Canadian Press is responsible for publishing the following foolishness:
"'For some reason, polite Canadians do not seem to think that "me" is acceptable,' says Joanne Buckley, a professor at the Centre for Student Development at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and one of the country's pre-eminent grammarians.
"'Of course, we grammarians know that the words should be "believe in the power of you and me" since "of" is a preposition and takes an object.'"
For some reason, Joanne Buckley seems to be an incurious, self-agrandizing pedant who has memorized some rules of thumb about grammar but has not had the wherewithal to consider what lies behind those rules and how they play out in the real world.

For some reason, Joanne Buckley seems to think that lyric writers should follow the same style that she expects from her undergraduate students in essays.

For some reason, Joanne Buckley doesn't seem to be aware that great writers throughout much of the history of modern English have used similar expressions, great writers including Shakespeare, Daniel Defoe, Tennessee Williams, and Mark Twain (and not just in dialogue).

For some reason, Joanne Buckley seems to believe that the NP "I", rather than the coordinate "you and I", is the object of the preposition "of" in the song.

For some reason, Joanne Buckley hasn't paid attention to great linguists such as Noam Chomsky who have considered this issue and concluded that compound phrases like "you and I" may be barriers to assignment of grammatical case.

And, for some reason, Joanne Buckley doesn't seem to be aware that use of "me" is positively ubiquitous among Canadians, politeness notwithstanding.

Given the above, that a newspaper would cite Joanne Buckley as a "pre-eminent grammarian" is simply absurd. (I've never heard of her, but apparently, she's written a book entitled Checkmate: A Writing Reference for Canadians, which appears to be out of print.)


Robb said...

I have never heard of Ms Buckley either, and I think that her comments do make her sound silly, but I also accept that this article may portray her as being even sillier than she is. I would assume that she cringed when she read this article as saw just how ridiculous her comments are.

Journalism: the field of dumbing down everything for consumption by the masses.

Don Johnston said...

Professor Buckley is reported to have said, "Then again, T. S. Eliot set the precedent for this usage in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' when he wrote in the first line, 'Let us go then, you and I,'" the professor said in an email. She says that Eliot was wrong.

Again, with respect, the learned professor is wrong. The words, "you and I", in "Let us go then, you and I" are in apposition to the word "us" and require a parallel treatment. So, "let us go then, you and me" would be wrong. This is demonstrated by simply substituting the words: let you and I go, as opposed to let you and me go.

I agree with your big picture comment. Rules of grammar are important, but artistic expression ought not to be crucified for grammatical correctness. No one needs to colour between the lines if he doesn't want to.

don johnston

Brett said...

I'm not sure I follow your line of argument, Don. Are you saying that let you and I go is standard?