Saturday, February 25, 2012

Between you and I: The fallibility of the Bard

On Lexicon Valley's third episode they take on the phrase "between you and I" and the objection to it. They talked about a student who wrote to the New York Times many years ago and cited Shakespeare as one who used "between you and I." To which their columnist cited the clear grammatical rule about the form of pronoun to use when it's the object of a preposition, and it should be "me"; Shakespeare was wrong, according to the prescribed rules.

Of course, people had been saying "between you and I" since before there were rules, but let's not digress there.

We'll not get into an argument about whether common usage makes for grammatical acceptance, nor whether grammatical acceptance is anything one should bother to try to achieve. However, it is worth bearing in mind: If one wishes to convince those who are adherents to linguistic prescriptivism, one should not expect quoting Shakespeare to be inherently persuasive. Many famous others have strayed from the rules but that doesn't mean the editors at the Times will be swayed by that fact.

One likes to hope that those who break the rules do so knowingly rather than out of ignorance of what the rules are, although "one" in that context is a relaxed pedant who probably would prefer people say "between you and me" so we can all avoid the situation.

Between you and me, I'd say getting upset about technical misuse—particularly in casual contexts—serves only to raise one's blood pressure. Of course, getting all riled up can be marvelously cathartic; we are never in a better mood than when we are complaining about something. There is no such thing as a relaxed pedant.

I say "between you and me," because I like to at least pretend my English degree was not a complete waste.


At the end of the show they cite a study by sociolinguists they note that among the young and less-educated the most common usage is actually "between me and you." No one says "between I and you," because, well, that just sounds stupid no matter how you slice it.

Who says no one can agree about linguistics?

No, really: Who?


Maybe we should all start saying "between us" and be done with it.

1 comment:

  1. "To be honest" is the phrase which torques me. It makes me believe that the speaker has been dishonest up to this point. Sigh.


So, what do you think?