Today I want to talk about me. No, I don’t mean me, Dean, I mean the objective pronoun me versus the nominative pronoun I. One of the most common errors in speech and writing is to use I where me should be.
Here’s the general rule in the simplest terms: Use I as the subject of a sentence or clause and me as the object of a sentence or clause.
Let me give some examples of the incorrect use of these pronouns:
“People gave my wife and I four toasters for wedding presents.” (incorrect)
“One of the best things to happen to Gary and I is that we became best friends.” (incorrect)
Here’s why both are incorrect: the pronoun I is virtually always used in the nominative case, as the subject of a sentence or clause, not the object. The objective pronoun is me. Replace I with me in both sentences:
“People gave my wife and me four toasters for wedding presents.” (correct)
“One of the best things to happen to Gary and me is that we became best friends.” (correct)
Lately, everyone seems to be creating memes, sharing memes, talking about memes, and commenting on memes in social media—but what in the world is a meme?
Meme, a neologism that first appeared in the 1970s, is a behavior or an idea imitated or shared widely in a culture. The word, pronounced meem, is derived from the Greek word miméme (“same, alike”). It remained a fairly obscure word until the last couple of years, when the Internet and social media infused it with new life. According to lexicographer Bryan Garner, a meme is “a humorous video, phrase, illustration, or other symbol or depiction that is suddenly and widely spread by and mimicked or parodied on the Internet.” Nowadays, a meme is typically a digital version of what we formerly called a poster or graphic that contains a caption of some sort—often a quotation attributed to a person whose image is a featured part of the graphic.
But note: the thing that makes a meme a true meme, by definition, is that it is rapidly and widely shared via social media (like Facebook) on the Internet. A photo with a caption or quote on it posted on Facebook is not a “meme”—unless it catches fire and goes viral, circling the globe faster than Superman. Otherwise (sorry to break the news), it’s just a picture with writing on it.
Another thing about memes: We need to take them with a grain of salt. More distortions, half-truths, and outright lies are spread by memes on social media today than we can imagine. Don’t be quick to share something that can possibly damage another’s reputation—even if you verify its accuracy.
 A neologism (nee-ol-ə-jiz-əm) is a newly coined word or expression.
 Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016), 588.
A quick-and-easy way to tighten our writing and make it flow more smoothly is to cut out the “flab.” Adjectives and adverbs* tend to bloat our writing, weighing it down with unneeded verbiage. Using fewer of them will almost always streamline writing and make it more interesting to read.
One flab word that often adds little to descriptive writing is the adverb very. We use very as an intensifier to give more strength to a verb or adjective. For example, “We got up very early this morning to see the sunrise. It was very beautiful.” Now read the same sentences without the verys: “We got up early this morning to see the sunrise. It was beautiful.” Has anything been lost? Not that I can tell.
My point is not that we should never use very to add strength to our writing, but to be aware of the verys and use fewer of them. Will “the woman ran very fast” tell us more than “the woman ran fast”? Very is a vague, subjective word that gives the reader almost no information. Instead of telling, add strength by showing the reader how fast she ran: “The woman sprinted down the field like a cheetah.”
And don’t forget this handy piece of advice attributed to Mark Twain:
*As you will recall, in simplest terms, adjectives describe or limit nouns and pronouns, and adverbs modify or describe verbs and adjectives.
I knew I was going to die that day . . . covered in blech!
I sat in I stunned silence while Mr. G., my creative writing teacher, announced to the class that my true-life story had been named the winner in a kinda-sorta writing competition that had been judged by a panel of local writing experts. This was my junior year of high school. I guess I had really been on my game when I wrote it as that was the first time a piece of my writing had “won” anything. It turns out it has been the only time. I received no prize—nothing tangible, anyway—just the immense satisfaction of having a group of adult writing experts recognize and applaud my wannabe talent.
While Mr. G. was telling the class about it, my head began to swell as the shock wore off and the reality sank in. The bubble quickly burst when Mr. G. himself stuck a pin in it: “This isn’t necessarily the decision I would have made,” he said—a disavowal I’m sure was meant to soothe the offended sensibilities of the highly intelligent and the truly talented ones sitting around me—the cream of the crop of the “smart kids” at my high school. It’s not that I was a bonehead who had somehow, by clerical error, been assigned a seat with these Gifted Ones. At any rate, not that I recall. But I wasn’t one of the Gifted Ones. Mr. G. knew it, and the Gifted Ones knew it. All God’s chillun knew it.
I wish I still had a copy of that story, but few bits of memorabilia from high school have survived, which is just as well. I’m enough of a pack rat as is. You should see my home office where I’m sitting right now. On second thought, no.
So here is today’s version of “Near Death in a South Dakota Pigpen.”
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