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VOL. 37 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 8, 2013

Vanderbilt chimes in on ‘me and him’ controversy

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The Pronoun Showdown continues. I started it some weeks back, asking which of two football coaches was correct, the one who said “between me and him” or the one who said: “between he and I?”

Lee, from the English Language Center at Vanderbilt University, writes that “Between, being a preposition, requires the objective form of pronoun. Thus, ‘between him and me’ is correct.”

(I reminded Lee that we’re dealing with coaches. Like the one who taught driver’s ed at my junior high. He was clear about his main rule: Your grade was based on the number of pages you wrote on assignments. He didn’t read the papers. He looked closely enough to root out English or math homework pages that some tried early in the semester to slide in on him. Diagrammed sentences and algebraic equations were dead giveaways! The rueful “noncompliants” were embarrassed in front of the class and sentenced to stand against the wall, while everyone else did the next day’s homework assignment.)

Lee believes we have a problem that “results from lack of grammar instruction in our elementary schools, and of grammar enforcement in our secondary schools.” As though we weren’t in deep enough, Lee cites a “similar problem, the aberrant use of the singular possessive in place of the plural in surnames.”

Quoting the late Paul Eells, who called football games at Vanderbilt and University of Arkansas, “Oh, my!” I’ve written about that, Lee, and will send you a past column or two to prove it.

Lee, though, won’t leave well enough alone. You’d think he was a college professor! He continues:

“Possibly like me, you had more grammar instruction in public school than do most of today’s youth. Handwriting as well. That latter one is hard for me to see go by the wayside.” Amen! Let’s hear it for penpersonship!

“Alas,” Lee writes, “change is the only constant.” (He acknowledges that last phrase is not original.) Then he gets personal:

“I am heartened to see that someone of your background and caliber is writing about proper use of the language, particularly the written variety. [G]ood grammar is good grammar, despite common misconceptions and popular usage.”

In conclusion, Lee writes, “BTW, a few years back, I was fortunate enough to catch a reading at a local bookstore (no longer in existence) by a couple of young guys who travel the country correcting public displays of bad grammar. Yay!

“They called themselves something like ‘The Grammar Squad,’ though that’s not quite it, and I can’t recall their actual name, sadly. Have you ever heard of them? I originally heard about them on NPR. Thank you for your efforts!”

You are welcome for my efforts, Lee. I’m betting that one or more readers recognizes your reference to that good grammar group. And that he, she or they will (a) send me a note clearing up even the slightest inaccuracy in your recollection and (b) sic that group on the football coaches.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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