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Outside Grammar's Portfolio:

1. I was recently reminded about the claim that "I and you" or "me and you" are grammatically incorrect -- not because "I" is being used instead of "me" or vice versa, but because it's wrong for "I" and "me" to go first. (Here's one sample I just found online, but I've seen others.) But that, it seems to me, is a principle of politeness -- let the other person go first -- and not of grammar.

2. Relatedly, the recent reference to Cohen v. California -- the case that held the government couldn't punish the wearing of a jacket that said "Fuck the Draft" -- reminded me of this passage from Justice Harlan's opinion:

First, the principle contended for by the State seems inherently boundless. How is one to distinguish this from any other offensive word? Surely the State has no right to cleanse public debate to the point where it is grammatically palatable to the most squeamish among us.

But there's nothing grammatically unpalatable to people about such vulgarities. "Fuck the Draft" is perfectly grammatical. "Fuckingly the Draft," I suppose, wouldn't be, but for that very reason I doubt that even lovers of vulgarity would wear such a jacket, unless they're trying for some linguistic absurdism.

3. So my question: Are these unrelated errors, or is there some reason why people sometimes refer to certain usage rules to grammatical rules, when the rules are actually rules of good manners?

Pizza Snob:
More importantly, to which charity should proceeds from the "Fuckingly the Draft" t-shirts that will inevitably pop up on Cafe Press now be directed?
1.16.2009 1:36pm
Crunchy Frog:
Because they're a bunch of self-important anal-retentive busybodies with no sense of humor? Nah, couldn't be.

I've found that the people who demand good manners from others tend to be the rudest on the planet - a corrolary of the general principle that He who complains loudest about any particular behavior is most guilty of it himself.
1.16.2009 1:38pm
byomtov (mail):
Is it always good manners to name the other person first?

"You and I really made mess of this project."

"The police are going to come down hard on you and me."

"You and I are going to be shot."
1.16.2009 1:40pm
KevinQ (mail) (www):
The Oxford English Dictionary describes grammar as: "That department of the study of a language which deals with its inflexional forms or other means of indicating the relations of words in the sentence, and with the rules for employing these in accordance with established usage;" (emphasis added)

Grammar is, more coloquially speaking, about where we put words. That a rule is based on a sense of politeness, rather than a sense of Latin (the source of many English grammar rules) does not matter. Hence, whether to say "I and you," or "You and I," or even "us all," is a question of grammar.

And because grammar deals with "the relations of words," which words to use in which circumstances also falls under the rubric of "grammar." If contractions in formal writing are an issue of grammar, then surely expletives in police conversation are, as well.

K
1.16.2009 1:42pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:
I just want to know where "bong hits 4 Jesus" fits into all of this.
1.16.2009 2:19pm
Arkady:

Are these unrelated errors, or is there some reason why people sometimes refer to certain usage rules to [as] grammatical rules, when the rules are actually rules of good manners?


In the end, Chomsky notwithstanding, grammatical rules are rules of behavior. In the minds of some, using expletives is bad behavior, and, since the transgressions are linguistic, it might seem natural to these folks to consider this bad grammar. I think this is just imprecision, mistakenly supposing the the word 'grammatical' is a synonym for 'linguistic'.

Justice Harlan could have (should have) written:


Surely the State has no right to cleanse public debate to the point where it is linguistically palatable to the most squeamish among us.


Or some such.
1.16.2009 2:23pm
Houston Lawyer:
In most cases, "you and I" should be "we" and "you and me" should be "us".

Grammar and vulgarity, as you mention, can and should go hand in hand. Few things annoy me more than improper cussing.
1.16.2009 2:26pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

is there some reason why people sometimes refer to certain usage rules to grammatical rules, when the rules are actually rules of good manners?

My elementary school teachers told me so. They were unanimous.
1.16.2009 2:45pm
NTB24601:
I dunno. I'm pretty sure of one thing though. If you start using the construction "I and you should go to the store," people won't think that you are rude; they'll think that English isn't your first language.
1.16.2009 3:11pm
MW:
KevinQ:

I think you draw too much from a very brief description. "Relations of words" in the OED definition has to refer to grammatical relations (so the definition is circular). Otherwise there is no distinction between grammar and style, which is also a matter of the relations between words -- or, as you say, where we put words. For that matter, rhyming is a relation between words, but I don't think anyone regards that as a matter of grammar.

Grammatically, "I" and "you" in "I and you" have the same function, as subject of a verb.
1.16.2009 3:21pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
I think you misread Harlan's intent here. I believe he is extending his argument about general offensiveness being prohibited by law to the possibility that even grammatical error would be likewise prohibited under force of law. He was not saying that the statement in the given case was ungrammatical, but that if we were to outlaw this form of speech on the basis of social politeness, then what would stop us from taking an additional step and outlaw bad grammar.

Speaking of grammar, what ever happened to the distinction between 'shall' and 'will'?
1.16.2009 3:32pm
Whadonna More:
Do you maybe mean "syntax" rather than "grammar" in the you-first context? Computer science has obfuscated the humanities-oriented meaning these terms in the geeky demographic.
1.16.2009 3:44pm
Grigor:

is there some reason why people sometimes refer to certain usage rules to grammatical rules, when the rules are actually rules of good manners?

Likely the reason is that both grammar and good manners are imperfectly understood by most people, and hence lumped together into the category of "things that are just too complicated to try to understand; people who do understand them are geeks and I will wear my ignorance of this topic as a badge of honor." See also, "I've never been any good at math."
1.16.2009 3:55pm
Sean Gleeson (mail):
I am offended by misplaced quotation marks in signage, e.g. TRY OUR "DELICIOUS" APPLE PIE!

I don't "believe" the Supreme Court has ruled on their status under the "First" Amendment, but I would not consider them "protected" speech.
1.16.2009 4:34pm
Sk (mail):
"I've found that the people who demand good manners from others tend to be the rudest on the planet - a corrolary of the general principle that He who complains loudest about any particular behavior is most guilty of it himself."

I find just the opposite.

"Because they're a bunch of self-important anal-retentive busybodies with no sense of humor? Nah, couldn't be."

See?

Sk
1.16.2009 4:39pm
Spinster:
EV, what do you think of the word "floccinaucinihilipilification" ?
1.16.2009 5:02pm
jim47:
Having just submitted a law school application to UCLA, the personal statement of which contained a "I and you"-type construction, I can only hope EV's sentiments are not unique.
1.16.2009 5:07pm
LM (mail):
I don't care about the rules, but I am a slave to my ear (which I'm sure has been influenced by the rules). So even though I know it's "wrong" and I'd never put it in a legal document, I have no problem with "me and you," probably at least in part because it's a frequently heard construction of the bad grammar dialect. "I and you," on the other hand, is only marginally less annoying than a "Sit &Sleep" commercial.*

(*"You're killing me, Larry!")
1.16.2009 5:28pm
sdfsdf (mail):
Item 1 in the post is worth thinking about. I think it *is* a point of grammar, because I think grammar refers to the rules of speech that sound natural ("syntax", perhaps, if we're going to be precise).

"I and you know" grates on the ear as much as "I doesn't know". Since it distracts the reader or listener, it shouldn't be used except for a special purpose. An example of proper use might be:

"I learned that a long time ago. I have always believed it. I and you know that it's correct."

Even better, though, might be:

"I learned that a long time ago. I have always believed it. I-- and you-- know that it's correct."

What do you think?
1.16.2009 5:29pm
MW:
As far as I can see, the grammar of "I and you did this" is exactly the same is the grammar of "You and I did this." That is, each word has the same grammatical function in each sentence. The syntax is also the same.
1.16.2009 6:03pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
John Burgess asks, "what ever happened to the distinction between 'shall' and 'will'?"

If he thinks this issue is simple, I suggest he read the "shall" entry in the complete OED. It is longer than some novels. Probably "shall" has the most complicated history of any word in the English language.
1.16.2009 6:13pm
Green Envy (mail):

Probably "shall" has the most complicated history of any word in the English language.


It certainly hasn't afforded the precision in statutory drafting that legislators have long assumed that it does. See, e.g., Dale E. Sutton, Use of "Shall" in Statutes, 4 J. Marshall L. Q. 204, 204 (1938-1939) (“Shall,” as used in statutes, is not only, in many cases, superfluous from the standpoint of good writing, but has too many meanings to make its unnecessary use safe.).
1.16.2009 6:37pm
Dom:
There are languages (Korean, for example) where the relative social standing of the speaker and listener (or audience) is built directly into the grammar, as honorifics or speech levels. Even some European languages have honorifics for the second person.

You could argue that *schleichen Sie sich gefälligst (roughly kindly pss off, Sir) is gramatically incorrect, because that German verb lacks a nonimperative form.

Should English discourse be different because the language lacks this feature?
1.16.2009 7:07pm
Loops:
For a simple take, I think "grammatical/grammatically" is just generally understood to include the meaning of "diction" (word choice) if that applies in the situation. So "grammatically palatable" is another way of saying "the choice of words is palatable" if that fits in the context of the discussion. It doesn't seem related to the issue of you before me.
1.16.2009 7:14pm
KeithK (mail):
MW has it right. There is nothing grammatically wrong with the sentence "I and you made a mess of the project." I and you are nominative forms appropriate for the subject. it just sounds wrong because that ordering is not typically used. For the same reason, an archaic word ordering like "A song the minstrel sung" is grammatically correct. It just sounds wrong to modern folks who expect Subject-Verb-Object word orders.
1.16.2009 7:52pm
Crunchy Frog:
Sk: No, I don't see. I haven't attempted to represent myself as anything other than the self-righteous bastard that I am.

This way I have true freedom of action, unburdened as I am by a guilty conscience. Yes, it's guilty, but so what? As the apostle Paul once wrote, When you sin, sin boldly.

Wandering back on topic: Grammatical rules exist for one reason only - ease of comprehension. Can the person I'm talking to reasonably undertand what I'm saying (assuming of course a common dialect) without too much trouble? That's really all that matters in the end.

Oh, and not sounding like a dork. Which for some of us is sadly impossible.
1.16.2009 8:04pm
K. Dackson (mail):
As for grammar, I recall the old joke of a country boy who was attending Harvard (or was it Yale):

Country boy: Can y'all tell me where the library's at?

Senior: You know, you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition.

Country boy: Sorry. Can y'all tell me where the library's at asshole?


Too many of the English grammar rules are handed down from some self-important Victorian minister who took the rules from Latin.

Because it made one sound more educated.

As opposed to the unclean masses.
1.16.2009 9:18pm
Katl L (mail):
About i and me. In spanish speaking countries whe you say yo y tu ( me and you) you are told that the donkey goes first
1.16.2009 9:31pm
TFKW:
They just don't like quasi-verbs in English, because acknowledging them as grammatical involves acknowledging the true richness of the English language, and they're invested in the status quo of living in a Very Small World.

Or maybe it's just linguification, as that other blog that I sometimes confuse with this one would call it.
1.17.2009 12:42am
TFKW:
As to objecting to:

?I and you will go to the store.

they are trying to take a courageous stand on the extent of semantic constraints on syntax.
1.17.2009 12:46am
K. Dackson (mail):
There is a difference in what is gramatically correct nd what just "sounds right".

I deal with educated people all the time that use "needs fixed" as in, "The flat tire needs fixed". Gramatically incorrect and it just sounds bad. Unless it is an artifact of a dialect spoken in a particular area. Then it is the "foreigners" who sound uneducated.

Most English speakers have been trained to say "You and me" or "you and I" and it is what sounds right. "I (or me) and you" is gramatically correct but just sounds wrong to most native English speakers.
1.17.2009 6:26am
man from mars:
There's Buber's famous I and Thou.
1.17.2009 8:51am
Karl Lembke (mail) (www):
My grade-school English teachers told me (well, the whole class) that when personal pronouns were linked by a conjunction, first person always came last. "You and I", "him or me", "You, he, and I", etc. (But, just between you, me, and the wall, there are occasional exceptions.) This was described as good manners rather than a grammatical rule.

Instead of describing this as "grammar" or "syntax", I'd suggest the term "usage", which I think of as covering matters not addressed by the formal rules of the language.
1.18.2009 3:44am
Lucas:
I agree that in the second case, the word grammatical is used incorrectly. However, I disagree with your characterization in the first case. I'm a native English speaker, and "I and you are going to the movies" sounds weird. "You and I are going to the movies" does not. This is the usual linguistic definition of ungrammatical, and though my one opinion would not be sufficient, your opinion (as a nonnative speaker) would not count at all.
1.18.2009 1:52pm
Neal Goldfarb (mail):
Regarding the grammaticality of "Fuck the draft," I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the definitive analysis by Quang Phuc Dong (of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology), English sentences without overt grammatical subjects.
1.19.2009 9:21am
Gabriel McCall (mail):
The difference between "I and you" and "You and I" is neither one of grammar, nor of manners, but of usage. See an excellent explanation of the distinction here: http://www.uta.edu/english/tim/courses/4301w98/nov23.html

"Usage is a set of explicit prescriptive rules that people impose on language in order to separate socially acceptable grammatical sentences from others that are not socially acceptable."
1.20.2009 8:06pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Regarding the grammaticality of "Fuck the draft," I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the definitive analysis by Quang Phuc Dong (of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology), English sentences without overt grammatical subjects.

Awesome. Thanks for that link. I guffawed.


...It is interesting that in this respect goddam works exactly like damn:

(57) Goddam God.
(58) *Goddam Himself.
1.20.2009 8:15pm

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