Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama's "between you and I": A moment of reason in the media?

When I saw this on the OpEd page of this morning's Times, my blood pressure started to edge up:
The I’s Have It
WHEN President Obama speaks before Congress and the nation tonight, he will be facing some of his toughest critics.
Grammar junkies.
The piece is by Patricia O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman, of grammarphobia.com and books like Woe is I. In fact, it mostly lays out some of the long history of between you and I type constructions and what some people think of as the 'politician's reflexive', as in “a substantive conversation between myself and the president.” So, that isn't so bad. But you might cringe at the tone of the last paragraph:
But an educated speaker is expected to keep his pronouns in line. Here, then, is a tip, Mr. President. Nobody chooses the wrong pronoun when it’s standing on its own. If you’re tempted to say “for Michelle and I” in tonight’s speech, just mentally omit Michelle (sorry, Mrs. Obama), and you’ll get it right. And no one will get on your case.
Do you really think that President Obama doesn't have control of the prescriptive grammar on these points? These are things he does — exactly like millions of us do — occasionally in speaking, but I'll bet you a keg of Wisconsin beer that he doesn't do this in writing. Probably not in his most careful speech either.


Mark Louden said...

I read this the same way. As I got into it, I was hoping for something along the lines of Steve Pinker's fine analysis of John Roberts's oath of office flub, but the end of this piece effectively gave prescriptivism the last word.

While "between you and I" phenomena often do involve hypercorrection, the syntax here is more complicated (and interesting). Too bad that couldn't have come out here, Pinker-style.

Mark L.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Honestly. Unless he goes around saying, "Give that to I, would you?" we can assume he knows the rule.