Monday, December 8, 2008

English, How She Is Spoke

We interrupt your Christmas shopping for this very important announcement. I am going to share with you a few of my pet peeves regarding the current state of spoken English in the United States of America. If correct grammar is a big pain in the neck to you, a ho-hum inducer, a non-issue, if you are tempted to check out now, please don’t leave just yet. You might learn something that could land you a better-paying job someday.

First, a couple of disclaimers: I have no problem whatsoever with listening to the English of people who learned it as a second language; the way they speak is often quite charming. Nor do I have a problem with how English is spoken by people in England, the only country in the world that does not officially exist. After all, they invented it. And by the way, they are not the ones with the accents. We are.

No, my problem is with the way many people born and educated in the United States, who claim English as their native tongue, speak English. I’m confining myself to spoken language here; I’m not going to bring up the things that drive me crazy about written English -- your/ you’re, its/it’s, there/their/they’re, and so forth. That is a topic for another day.

Here, in no particular order (although I’ve used numerals instead of bullets -- so sue me, Society for Technical Communication), are some of the things that drive me crazy about the English I hear spoken every day:

1. Using objective case pronouns when the nominative case is needed. You may have heard this so much that it has begun to sound right to you, but it isn’t right when the subject of a sentence is involved.

Wrong: Me and her went to the mall.
Right: She and I went to the mall.

Wrong: Me and him are friends.
Right: He and I are friends.

(Helpful hint: When wondering whether objective or nominative case should be used, try dropping the other person from the phrase and listen to yourself: Her went to the mall? A three-year-old may talk that way, but adults shouldn’t. Me went to the mall? Not unless you are Cookie Monster. Also, putting yourself last in a list is always a courteous thing to do, because you are not the center of the universe. As Rick Warren put it in the first sentence of the first chapter of The Purpose-Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”)

2. Using nominative case pronouns when the objective case is needed. You may notice that this is the exact opposite of the previous peeve. (If this were a vocabulary lesson, I would introduce the word antipodal here, but it isn’t, so I won’t.)

Wrong: Just between you and I, this is pretty boring.
Right: Just between you and me, this is pretty boring.
Better: Just between you and me, this is fascinating.

Wrong: Dad gave twenty dollars to she and I.
Wrong: Dad gave twenty dollars to me and her. (oops, not courteous)
Right: Dad gave twenty dollars to her and me.
Better: Dad gave a hundred dollars to me.

Wrong: I was saving that piece of cake for Jethro and I.
Right: I was saving that piece of cake for Jethro and me.

(Helpful hint: Would you say, “To I”? “For I”? No way.)

Better: I was saving that piece of cake for myself. Jethro can eat dog food.

3. Using auxiliary verbs with a simple past tense verb instead of with the past participle. I hear this all the time and it drives me bonkers.

Wrong: We had went to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries.
Right: We had gone to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries.
Better: We had gone to the supermarket to buy beer to take to the football game.

Wrong: They had drove all the way to Yellowstone National Park.
Right: They had driven all the way to Yellowstone National Park.
Better: They had driven all the way back to the supermarket to buy more beer to take to the football game.

Wrong: He has swam in the pool all afternoon.
Right: He has swum in the pool all afternoon.
Better: He won’t be allowed anywhere near the pool when he comes home from the football game.

People in England don’t have this problem with language because (a) they have little grocery stores owned by local Moms and Pops instead of supermarkets, (b) they would drown if they tried to drive all the way to Yellowstone National Park, and (c) their yards are much too small to include swimming pools. Also, they care a lot more about speaking their language correctly than many people here in the States do. The English don’t want to be thought of as dummies, but we don’t seem to mind. Speaking of which, my next pet peeve is:

4. Using snuck as the past tense of sneak and drug as the past tense of drag. This two-pronged attack on all that’s holy (reminder to self: Add bifurcated to next vocabulary lesson) is absolutely the most irritating and brain-numbing pet peeve in the history of the world, in my humble opinion. You are free, of course, to argue that my opinion is not all that humble, but in that direction lies only madness. For now, I do not care that language is a living thing and constantly changing or that the dictionary is not a book of rules but merely contains milepost signs along the communication highway. (Well, actually, I do care, but since that doesn’t further my side of the argument one bit, I prefer not to go there.)

Wrong: She snuck into the house at two-thirty in the morning.
Right: She sneaked into the house at two-thirty in the morning.
Better: She got home at eleven o’clock.

Wrong: Stone Cold Steve Austin drug Hulk Hogan all over the ring.
Right: Stone Cold Steve Austin dragged Hulk Hogan all over the ring.
Better: Hulk Hogan pinned Stone Cold Steve Austin in thirty seconds flat.

I can’t think of a good way to end this post, so I will simply stop. Four pet peeves are enough for one afternoon, especially when one of them is bifurcated. End of rant.

You may now return to your Christmas shopping.

P.S. -- In an attempt to keep my “goody two shoes” image intact, I am disclosing today that I don’t drink beer. I tried it a long time ago and decided very quickly that it looks, smells, and tastes like it has already been through a horse. If I ruled the world, drinking beer while watching a football game would be illegal. I was just trying to be funny a few paragraphs back. Just so you know.


  1. from someone who just explained the very quaint southern talk of the negro race, you are now on kind of an opposite are out to get me aren't you bob?????you have it in for the putz....what have i ever done to you????i have been thrown off more blogs for my spelling and grammer than you every thought of being on....i just now had koala bear tell me i must be doing an awful lot of stealing for my writing and i say who would be stupid enough to believe that...

  2. Well, I do pretty well on the grammar front, but I must admit to liking beer. Perhaps the problem is that you tried the wrong kind. I find stuff like Budweiser and Miller Lite undrinkable but I love European beers and craft beers.

  3. Just between you and I, Bob, I really enjoyed this post. :) [sorry]

    Your opinion, please. From whence does an apparent oblivion to or utter disregard of case and tense arise? My spine stays in constant tension when I am required to listen to college graduates speak/read from texts that they, themselves, have prepared. It's evident that grammar checking software is not installed on the computer in use or, if installed, is never applied to the text.

    While I believe my grammar to be reasonably decent, I need a refresher course in punctuation, as I am an admitted over-user of the venerable semi-colon, or I often use it incorrectly. I most likely over-use the lowly comma, too. I need to find my old copy of Strunk & White.

    I very much enjoyed your Better: remarks. You have a slightly wicked humor. I didn't believe you drank beer, either.

    I hasten to confess that, while visiting Jolly Old England (where, by the by, I did not hear much of the Queen's English spoken), I was observed to enjoy a glass of draft Guiness Stout with a Plowman's Lunch.

  4. It's pretty early to start responding to comments on this post, but I'm willing to give it a go!

    Putz -- Hooray! This is the most lucid communication of yours I have ever read! It has only minor spelling and punctuation errors, no grammatical errors (depending on how you look at it), and a very interesting approach to the use of capitalization! I neither am out to get you nor have it in for you. I think you are someone who wants to get his thoughts out to the world so quickly that he never bothers to review or correct what he has written. (Even Pilate said, "What I have written, I have written.") And I didn't just explain "the very quaint southern talk of the negro race," I said that Gullah is a real language spoken by a small number of people, descended from slaves, who live primarily along the Georgia and South Carolina coast. I will never throw people off my blog for their spelling and grammar, but I may throw them off for other reasons (not that you have anything to worry about). This post was aimed at people who speak English! And I don't think you are quite the "putz" you want people to think you are!

    Ruth -- You can keep on drinking that stuff if you want to, but I prefer cream soda or iced tea myself.

    Pat - An Arkansas Stamper -- I haven't really thought about it, but if pressed I would have to say that because we are supposed to be a classless and capitalist society, Americans generally are more interested in what a person produces or can afford to purchase than how a person sounds. In other times and places, differences in speaking and writing were often used to exclude persons from progressing financially or being upwardly mobile socially (think Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady). America, however (ideally, at least), is a place where everyone is equal and where anybody can achieve success. More and more, language is a less important indicator of how much a person can achieve and how far a person can advance. Educated people are considered elitists, and elitism is bad. Nowadays, even teachers, journalists, and broadcasters make what used to be considered common mistakes in speech. Changing the subject, you are the second Episcopalian woman in these comments who enjoys drinking beer. Should I draw any conclusions?

  5. Agreed on the English. :)

    My dad used to make beer, because my mom liked it. He called it "Horse Brand Beer."

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful response, RWP. "Correctly spoken" English is certainly not a predictor of the success or effectiveness of the person who chills my spine most often; he has had a successful military and business career and hold a responsible position within our church. I guess I am just a language snob; I can't be an elitist because I'm neither well to do nor highly educated.

    No, you can not reach any conclusions about Episcopalians and beer! LOL I wouldn't go so far as to say that I "like" beer. I have none in my home and have not tasted beer at all since 2005 (and it was a private brewery Stout). In my considerable lifetime, I have consumed, perhaps, the equivalent of two six-packs. Lest I sound "goody-goody," I'm not. I do like red wine, and sometimes (not always) drink a couple of glasses in a week.

    I do purely love cream soda, though! The brown kind. That, and IBC Root Beer (there's the beer, again) are my favorite soft drinks. Sweet iced tea is a given!!

  7. I'm applauding. And I have a subordinate clause/Claus on my latest post.

  8. As a qualified English teacher myself, I am relieved to see your post! These blots on our language annoy me too, to ridiculous levels sometimes!
    The between you and me thing, I'm not too comfortable with that though, as 'between me' just wouldn't work. However, unfortunately I don't have the time right now to read all of your excellent post, will try to be back.
    England doesn't officially exist? Explain yourself at once, Sir! lol. If you mean the Britain thing, well, there is still an England and I live in it. Living in middle England, I am English, I live in England and I speak English. lol! I don't refer to myself as British. If I lived in another part of the UK, I might have to, but I'm here in the Midlands, bang in the centre of jolly old England and proud of it! he he... carry on with the good work of the word, Sir.

  9. I am a first time reader. I found your blog on the "Post of the Day" segment of David McMahon's Authorblog. I'm glad you addressed the topic of grammatical usage, but I wonder if the war is already lost. Our pastor, who is working on his doctorate, still says, "...setting in the pews." I recently noticed "woken" being used frequently in written media. I'd like your take on the word. I may be generationally removed from current usage, but I react when I read it. Great job. Pappy

  10. As someone who has scored scholastic tests for a living, I've often bemoaned the same thing. There are 10th graders out there who don't know the difference between their, there, and they're. Sigh, what is the world coming to?

    Congratulations on making David's list.


  11. Aha! This one made David's Post of the Day list! Congratulations!

  12. OMG wait until Moannie gets here..this post was written for her!! LOL

    well done you!!

  13. My goodness, lots of first-timers here! Welcome to all of you!

    Koala Bear in Canada - Horse Brand Beer! That's really funny!

    David McMahon in U.K. (even though he claims to be in Australia) - Thank you for including my blog in your list of contenders for Post of the Day on authorblog!

    lynn in the U.K. - I agree with you that "Between me" is rather odd. My dad used to say, "Between you and me and the fencepost," but I never corrected him to say "among" because he probably would have clobbered me with the fencepost. As for England not being an official country, hie yourself over to my U.K. friend Andy's blog ( and scroll down to read about the Witenagemot Club, if you haven't heard of it, in his sidebar on the right.

    Texican in Harlingen - I'll bet my pastor can outdo your pastor any day of the week. I hesitate to give examples online, though. If wake/woken is okay, why don't we say bake/boken?

    lee - It's difficult to distinguish between homonyms in spoken English, though!

  14. This is a "me too" post...or is it I, also? I once had a boyfriend who went into the service and wrote me a love letter that ended: I love you hart and sole...okay, he was a hunter and a fisherman but I don't think that was the problem. The boy couldn't spell. Did I red pen and return it? You bet I did. Did I ever hear from him again? Well, no. And it was the last time I played teacher. Very good post, and congratulations on the Post of the Day mention.

  15. Fat, frumpy, and fifty... - I have one word for you: NOT!! (although the picture almost convinces me). Thanks for being a first-time commenter.

    Sandi McBride - "hart and sole" is pretty funny! I'm sure his were in the right place. When I was engaged to Mrs. RWP, I was in Omaha and she was in Orlando, and she said in one letter, "Take all errors for hugs and kisses." I pulled out all of her letters and wrote back, "You owe me 92 hugs and kisses." Pretty dumb thing to do, huh?

    The great thing is she married me anyway! Actually, one of the ways I knew I had fallen in love was when I realized that her spelling didn't bother me.

    Thanks for being another first-time commenter.

  16. I am SOOO with you on this! Incorrect grammar drives me NUTS! And about language being living and changing? I don't buy into much of that. (Though where I am probably changed from the original.) It only changes because some less-than-brilliant people do it improperly so often that it becomes accepted. (CRINGE!)

    My 4- and 7-year-old daughters have been known to correct some grammar mistakes in their short lives. We try to curb their doing this in public, but we are the grammar police in this household. I LOVE your pet peeves!

    Over from Authorblog.

  17. Louise - Glad to have you join us all the way from beautiful New Mexico! Just last night I was watching Amy Roloff (from Little People, Big World on the TLC channel) vacationing in Taos.

    Our language *is* living and changing, even if we wish it weren't. As proof, read my post of September 15, 2008 post, "Can't you understand plain English?" Then read September 16, 2008, "Can't you understand plain English? (part 2)"

    Usage has always influenced changes in language. In former times, it was usage by *educated* speakers that had the most influence, which tended to slow down the rate of change considerably. Today, in the U.S at least, hardly anyone seems to put any stock in what educated speakers think; everyone speaks exactly as he or she pleases!

    Some people say we get the kind of government we deserve. Maybe we also get the kind of language we deserve. :(

    We do need to roll with the punches and go with the flow, to use a couple of overworked metaphors, where language is concerned. Remember, the dinosaurs became extinct because they couldn't or wouldn't adapt.

    Maybe nobody will notice that I'm taking both sides of the street in this discussion....

  18. Amen - Preach it, Brother! Esp. since you qualified your statement by noting that beer seems like something that has already been, ahem, processed. But what do I know, I like to make up words and then insist that they are just as legitimate as "dictionary" words. (My personal pet peeve of the moment is the apostrophe being used for plural words. Such as "She had lots of book's." I see that EVERYWHERE lately! Drives me nuts.)

  19. At this point in time, I myself am to busy gifting and lunching to add this to my full plate. I've got to get up out of here, see what I'm saying?


  20. Frankly, I am amazed that there are some American cousins - like yourself - who realise that they speak English and that this absolutely amazing language originated in England! Remembering my time as a summer camp counsellor in Ohio, I recall a couple of conversations in which I had to explain that Americans may have invented many things but they did not invent the country's adopted first language. They looked at me in amazement.

  21. This post now bears the distinction of having more comments than any other post on my blog in the fifteen months of its existence!

    Fireblossom and Epijunky - Welcome, and come back often!

    Rosezilla (Tracie) - How would new words ever come along if someone didn't make them up? What I don't like are strange new words back-formed from nouns when perfectly good words exist. For example, orient/oriented (verb) and orientation (noun). We don't need orientated. Another example is converse/conversed (v.), conversation (n.), and conversated (a back-formation). And I agree with you about possessives being used as plurals (book's instead of books) in written English, but that error is undetectable in spoken English.

    Yorkshire Pudding, my friend, why would you be amazed that some of us still know from whence we sprung, er, sprang, er, came?

  22. Wow, rhymsie....great post, and many, many comments!

    You could have been an English teacher.....well, you are one, here on your blog. Hey, you can put your good abilities to work on the virus I'm inflicting upon you.....yes, that's right, you've been tagged with a "virus" writing assignment. You'll survive it.

  23. Bob,

    This makes me afraid to write anything. I can see you now.........."50 lashes with a wet noodle for her crummy grammar". Great post.

  24. Fantastic!!!! And as someone who is studying Spanish I am aware that I make these blunders everyday much to the amusement of my Spanish peers!

  25. Egghead (Vonda) - You don't have anything to worry about. Anyone who can write a blog and keep an egg farm going is okay in my book, crummy grammar and all!

    Kate - Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting! I see from clicking on your name that you are the Kate who visited Jay after her shoulder surgery, and I see on Jay's blog a photograph of you! I'm glad you two got along so well. Your fellow blogging Britishers Silverback (Ian) and Daphne experienced the same sort of instant rapport when they met. Please give my regards to the queen, or at least Prince William.