The Malcontent On: The grammar police

As any Oxford student knows, there are certain arbitrary rules of language that one simply must follow in order to demonstrate one’s intelligence. That these were (probably) made up by Victorian gentlemen on an opium binge must not cloud our judgement.

The desperation to sound learned drives people to break the very rules they so vehemently and boorishly enforce on others. We know them as ‘Grammar Nazis’, though this fascist subsection is adequately covered by the wider category of ‘snob’. The issue here is not with people who have grown up using the ‘standard’ form, but with anyone who has the audacity to tell others how to speak.

The most fecund turf of the Nazi is ‘I’. Children, open your textbooks to page 12. ‘I’ is the English nominative first person singular pronoun used when referring to the subject of the sentence or clause, as in ‘I am going to chunder.’

‘Me’ is both the accusative and dative form of ‘I’. This means it is expected after any preposition, when referring to the direct or indirect object of the sentence. As in ‘Please pass me the chunder bucket’ (‘Please pass the chunder bucket to me’, or ‘Is that grammar handbook for me?’)

When there is more than one person involved, the form of the pronoun does not change. Hence we have the infamous: ‘Lucy and I are going to chunder’. ‘Me am going to chunder’ is unacceptable in English, and therefore so is ‘Lucy and me are going to chunder’.

Equally, ‘Please pass I the caviar’ is unacceptable, at least in Southern Standard British English (SSBE). Therefore, a native English speaker who isn’t blinded by the propaganda would not accept ‘Please pass Crispin and I the caviar’.

Far too many people use this type of phrase, accompanied by a smug tone as they mentally pat themselves on the back. Please, if you are going to correct people, make sure you know what you are talking about.

That said, it is deeply ingrained in all of us to attach certain judgements to certain accents, dialects and forms of speech – at heart, we’re all a little bit snobby. This should be resisted: it does not mean that individuals are justified in taking it upon themselves to monitor the speech of others. It is absolutely guaranteed that these self appointed Grammar Nazis use non-standard forms themselves, often with surprising frequency.

Nor is spelling safe under the Grammar Nazi umbrella. ‘Even’ Oxford has a Dyslexia SpLD Fund specifically to support incredibly able students who happen to struggle with spelling and handwriting, amongst other things. We should all think twice before making a facetious comment on facebook when someone types ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’, or souring a conversation when someone says ‘me and Amy are going to the shops’. Between you and me, you can speak however you blinkin’ well like.

Frances Avery