Words and Their Meanings

Just a couple days ago I went on a tear about the difference between the words “me” and “I”, and how irritated I get at the many people who regularly misuse them.

Interesting timing. Just this weekend a child of my close aquaintance made just this error, (e.g. “Bill and me did such-and-such….”), and I corrected her. Her mother brushed it off with a variation of the adolescent “Oh, you too?” joke.

I don’t get it. Are parents now actively aspiring to have kids who don’t know grammar? Was the mother perhaps embarrassed that her child was corrected in an error that she herself makes frequently? If the latter is the case, it’s a bit maddening that while shame once inspired people to correct themselves, it now serves to make some of them more adamant in their mistakes. The “Me Generation” rears its head once again.

People may be puzzled by my insistence on grammar, arguing, in essence, “What’s the difference if you understood her?” The difficulty is that a misapplied word can completely change the meaning of a sentence; and in situations where an error creates a grammatically proper statement with a changed meaning, the false meaning will be heard because you won’t realize that the concept expressed by their words is not the one they intended to express. (You may note from my earlier post that those grammatical structures that don’t influence the meaning of the words don’t trouble me much, e.g. the proper “It is I” vs. the idiomatic “It’s me.”)

I understand that most people just don’t pay that much attention to grammar. To make such a mistake out of ignorance is simply an error to be corrected; but to make it knowingly is disrespectful to the people around you, and to knowingly accept it is to willfully open yourself to misunderstanding or deception. Dumbing down the language and blurring distinctions serves no one except, ultimately, those trying to deceive others — politicians and salesmen (and sometimes the news media) blur such distinctions on a regular basis.

Pop Quiz:

“Joe owes you more money than me.” According to that sentence alone, how much money do I owe you relative to Joe? What changes when the sentence becomes “Joe owes you more money than I”?

Comments are invited and encouraged

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