Me, Myself and I 

Let us go then you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky,
Like a patient etherized upon a table.

The masterful opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s 1910 poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” contains a startling image.  It also has a grammatical error that allows the verse to rhyme.

As pedants will point out, the pronouns “you and I” should agree with their antecedent “us.” Textbook usage requires the objective case rather than the nominative: “Let us go then you and me” would be standard English.

Isn’t it obvious?

Eliot could get away with his solecism because it sounds right and, as a master of language, he knew the grammar rule he was bending.

These days one encounters an epidemic proliferation of “I’s” in place of “me’s” and similar nominative/objective confusions that are decidedly unpoetic.

Call it grammar derangement disorder.  It has infected the professional classes and almost defined a new norm. Here is a random sampling heard and read in just one day at the office:

“That time would be inconvenient for she and I.”

Wrong because the pronouns are objects of the preposition “for.”

“In the opinion of he and I.”

Same error.  Should be “him and me”

“The client asked Bobby and I for our opinions”

“Me, me, me!”

Myself, I have a theory of why this disorder has turned into such a contagion.  These days teaching linguistic standards in secondary schools is (absurdly) considered culturally reactionary and oppressive.  But excessive pedantry is also partly to blame.

Too many times sticklers chide people for saying things like “She is older than me,” insisting on “She is older than I” because “than” is a conjunction not a preposition.  A conjunction introduces a new clause with a subject and verb.  The implied clause here is “She is older than I am.”  This makes some sense. You probably wouldn’t say “than me am.”

Yet in this example one could reasonably argue that “than” simply serves as a preposition, so the objective case should be acceptable. “He is taller than her” is copacetic.  Over-correction has led people unsure of the rules to believe that the nominative is always superior to the objective.

Grammatical relativism may be part of our post-truth world. Who really needs constipated linguistic rules? What does orthodoxy matter if people can understand what you are saying or writing?

After all, the rules are merely pragmatic conventions to help keep order. There is no revealed Bible of syntax. And English evolves. Unlike, say, French, English has no official academy of scholars setting standards.

Yet as Veteran Scripps National Spelling Bee champion William Cashore was recently quoted, “If your spelling is sloppy, people will wonder if your thinking is sloppy.”  The same applies to grammar.  Bending the rules, as opposed to blindly following or breaking them, requires first knowing the rules and judging the context.

In “Redemption Song,” Bob Marley sings in imagined Rasta slave argot:

Old pirates, yes, they rob I
sold I to the merchant ships
minutes after they took I
from the bottomless pit.

Not exactly the King’s English, but undeniably authentic and lyrical.  The work of a master craftsman like Eliot.

As for the rest, let us strive, you and me, to heed Mr. Cashore’s advice.

Mark Medish, a lawyer in Washington, D.C, is a former senior White House and Treasury official in the Clinton Administration.