I’ve written about this before, but hey, I have a comic!
Everybody knows about the TV show (or was it a movie?) that started with something about “to boldly go where…” and you probably had an English teacher (if you’re old enough) who said not to do that, you should say “boldly to go…” or maybe “to go boldly.” You might remember that I said that this rule was promulgated by Latinists who wanted English to be more like Latin. Baloney! Put those adverbs right there in the middle of the verb! (If you’re going to use an adverb, anyway. Try your sentence with a better verb and no adverb.)
So here’s the comic. See the second cell:
Thank you, Scott. I’ve been hanging onto this comic since 2014 and only now got around to finally using it. Shame on me.
By the way, at the top of that second cell, he writes, “have only noticed…” a similar construction.
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That is, I should repeat mentioning it so you won’t do it! I’m pretty sure nobody memorizes my little grammar lessons, and besides, repetition is the mother of learning, right?
Anyway, in English, we use the objective case for words that are objects of prepositions and direct objects. That means me instead of I, them instead of they. Other languages, that have more cases, can use any of several other cases with prepositions. We say their prepositions take the accusative, or the dative, or the genitive. But nobody uses the nominative with prepositions. Nominative is reserved for the subjects of sentences.
English speakers tend to get confused when their prepositions and verbs have a compound object. I think this error descends from a common correction in sixth grade English class that I won’t get into right now. So we say, the prize goes to Bill and Bob, or Tom whipped Bill and Bob, which are correct. (Nouns in English don’t show case except for the possessive.) But when we use pronouns (which do show case), lots of folks revert to the nominative, and they say it the way the third cell in this comic says it. I’m pretty sure Scott Meyer knows the correct way to use a compound direct object, but he drew his character as someone who doesn’t. Thank you, Scott, for giving me a good example of what not to say!
I don’t think it’s correct for a kid to whip his parents, but if Dad is describing it, he should say, “his mother and me.”
This comic,um, literally addresses an issue I mentioned not so long ago, so I won’t go into that. It also addresses another issue–linguistic change. As a technical writer, I am tempted to wish that language didn’t change. Eliminating the ambiguity of having new meanings for words would certainly make it easier to be understood. I think this is the rationale for the French Academy, which is infamous for its insistence that the French language not change.
But language has to change over time. After all, the world changes over time. New ideas mean neologisms (and if you know what neologism means, I don’t need to explain this to you). A principle in linguistics is that all languages are sufficient. That is, for their environment. A corollary of this is that when something new comes along, we make or borrow a word for it.
Language also changes for less justifiable reasons, and that’s what makes me roll my curmudgeonly eyes.
Let’s look at the comic, from January 17, 2014:
Definition creep is a neologism, by the way, derived perhaps, from “scope creep,” a term you hear too often in software development circles. The comic dances around the point, dear to my heart, that if you mush around the meanings, you can lose the use of perfectly good words. If if “literal” and “figurative” both mean “figurative,” how can you say that something is literal? Here’s another example: nauseous means “making one want to throw up,” and nauseated means feeling like throwing up. Both ideas are useful (in the right context), so don’t make both words mean the same thing.
We’re going to lose a lot of these battles, but I recommend that when you write, you exercise care to use the right word. In fact, here’s some evidence that we’re going to lose the nauseous/nauseated battle. The character speaking in the center panel is one of the intellectuals in the Luann Strip (Nov 9, 1998).
On the other hand, perhaps Greg Evans has already gone over to the dark side. This one is from 1992.
One last comment: Note that the guy on the left in Basic Instructions said “…in a recent dictionary.” It’s been a running battle in the lexicographical world whether dictionaries should prescribe the “correct” meaning, or merely describe what people are saying, without casting judgement. Currently the trend is toward being merely descriptive. Alas.
I know I mention case a lot, but I like to post comics about grammar, and I happened to run into one that uses case both correctly and incorrectly in a construction that can be tricky to get right—comparison. First the comic.
I like Scott Meyer’s work because of his clever humor. Apparently that’s Scott on the right. I don’t know if the fellow on the left represents an actual person, but usually he’s the one who makes the mistakes. This time he gets it right and Scott makes the mistake. Look at the first speech.
I heard the boss yelling. Did you tell him that you’re smarter than him again?
Remember the last post, about copulatives and predicate nominatives? Yup, he should have said “…you’re smarter than he.” The uncompressed sentence is “…that you are smarter than he is.” “He” sounds correct now, doesn’t it?
Go to the last cell, first speech.
Why shouldn’t I be able to tell people that I’m smarter than they?
“They” is correct! The expanded sentence is “…I am smarter than they are.” Sounds right, doesn’t it?
As a footnote, I should point out that the captions on to two last cells use “its” and “it’s” correctly. But you noticed that, didn’t you?