Wednesday, September 28, 2011

You and Me, Baby

Ever since our collective second-grade teachers told us, "Don't say 'you and me' here; say 'you and I,'" well, there have been problems. Some of us got the message and use the subjective case ("I")  and the objective case ("me") where appropriate. Some of us overcompensated and now always choose "you and I," even when it is the object of a verb, causing us grammarians to cringe but appreciate the good intentions behind the error. Some of us didn't pay no attention, flunked out of high school, and continue to cause us grammarians acute agony by always using "you and me" regardless of whether it's the subject or object.

I could turn this post into a usage lesson, but I think it would be much more interesting to combine two of my favorite subjects and discuss how the "You and I" grammar phenomenon manifests itself in popular music!

It all began back in high school, when I was on my oldies kick and heard on a regular basis the Doors, singing their 1968 hit, "Touch me," complete with a "You and I" used as an object! After years of mental suffering every time I heard these miscased [neologism by Valerie!] lyrics, I started amassing a collection of their containing songs to post on my blog. Here's the song that started it all off:
I'm gonna love you [we won't talk about the use of "gonna" right at this moment"]
'Til the heavens stop the rain [we also won't talk about how it's usually not raining]
I'm gonna love you!
'Til the stars fall from the sky...
For you and I! (Doot doot dooo doo, doot doot doo doo...)
You might argue that poetic license allows one to stretch the rules a bit in order to get a good rhyme, but seriously, you're telling me nothing rhymes with stars, or sky, or me, that would allow the lyricist to rearrange the sentences a bit?

Apparently it's not just love songs that fall prey to the erroneous "You and I." Maroon 5's "Makes Me Wonder" and Groove Coverage's "7 Years and 50 Days" both suffer from it while telling their tales of tragic breakups. Oh yeah, and make-up songs, too. "Life is a highway" starts one verse by saying, "There was a distance between you and I," but implies it's not there any more.

These errors can be excused as a confusion resulting from the pronoun being separated from the preposition by "you," which never changes, but not so in "I Wonder as I Wander," which brazenly boasts the phrase, "like you and like I," and surely takes poetic license to all new heights in the process.

Sometimes all I know of a song is the part of it that butchers my language. When I heard Linkin Park's "The Catalyst," I found it wholly ignorable in every way, but my ears perked right up when I heard the lyric, "Far from the world of you and I." I then tuned out again, but noted it down as another case of terrible grammar.

So far all the songs I've listed have erred on the slightly forgivable side of overcompensation, but Lady Gaga, renegade that she is, of course takes the low road, singing, "You and me could write a bad romance."

There are a few songs that use "You and I" without using it wrong. Unfortunately, they are far between, and I don't notice them at all unless there's something else weird about them.

Take 21 Guns, by Green Day. At the end of a verse, this song blasts out with "Throw up your arms into the sky! You and I!" Great. This use of "You and I" gives me nothing to complain about—except that it's a sentence fragment! With no relevance to the rest of the song whatsoever. Read the lyrics. Tell me if you can figure out why a "You and I" was stuck in there, other than to rhyme with "sky."

And one more for the road. "You and I travel to the beat of a different drum," sings Linda Ronstadt, and I think, "Wow, someone finally got it right!" Until I listen to the rest of the song and realize that she got the rest of the sentence wrong! For years, I thought she was trying to say, "You and I are weirdos, but at least we're weirdos together!" But no, it turns out that she's trying to say that you and I are two very different people and we should go our separate ways. Hey Linda, why don't you try "You and I travel to the beats of different drums," if you want to indicate we're not traveling to the beat of the same drum. It won't even mess up your rhyme too much!

Sheesh. At least she's right when she claims, "I see no sense," and definitely right when she says, "Goodbye!"


Anonymous said...

You must lay the blame where it lies or should lie. Linda Rondstadt is simply singing lyrics by, of all people, a Monkee! (Michael Nesmith. Would I lie?)Many monkeys might be able to type Shakespeare eventually, one Monkee isn't likely to usee the correct grammar...

Amy Shipley said...

Lately I have been very perturbed by the use of "that" instead of "who". It seems like everyone is always saying "The girl that has the cute puppy", "The boy that wears funny shoes". I guess people are just things these days...

Valerie said...

Yeah, "that" instead of "who" bothers me too (when I'm not doing it myself! Oops!) ...Do I feel another grammar post coming on?