Call it “Generation ME.”
As in, “Me and Rosie are going to the pool.” Or “Tim and me saw that movie last night.”
No matter how many times we correct our children (“Rosie and I are going to the pool, not Rosie and me”) or nag them about correct English usage (“the first person singular pronoun is I” when it is the subject and “me” when it is the object”), they continue to get it wrong.
It’s no longer just the poorly educated who speak this way. Across the Bay State, well-educated children who get good grades incessantly say “so-and-so and me” when they should say “so-and-so and I.”
Perhaps our children speak this way because they are members of a generation of narcissists — entitled and self-absorbed children who think only of themselves. Or perhaps they’re just linguistically lazy. But the outright resistance of some children to speaking proper English suggests another possibility.
“Mom, you’re so old fashioned,” my daughter says when I correct her for the umpteenth time. “Only stuck-up people speak that way.”
“No,” I say, “all people should speak that way.”
Then it occurs to me: She equates sounding intelligent with sounding snobbish. And in the trash-TV, hip-hop culture in which teens and young adults operate, saying “so-and-so and me” might just be an easy way to polish one’s street cred.
Of course, our constant harping on the misuse of “me” has created a related, and equally irritating, problem — the tendency to “hypercorrect.” Thus, my 13-year-old last week asked, “Mom, can you please bring Lauren and I to the mall?”
The question made me cringe — and not simply because my daughter seems to spend an inordinate amount of time shopping.
The correct way to ask is, of course: “Would you please bring Lauren and me to the mall?” But my daughter is now overcompensating by eliminating the word “me” from her vocabulary altogether.
Unfortunately, it’s not just teenagers who need a lesson on when to use “I” and when to use “me.” According to language maven (and former New York Times editor) Patricia T. O’Conner, mixing up “I” and “me” is the “single most common mistake in American English.” Where kids tend primarily to misuse “me,” educated adults tend to err on the side of “I.”
Just last week, a major newspaper ran a column that said: “My mother once dropped my sister and I off [at the movies].”
On Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump repeatedly says, “You will be joining [so-and-so] and I in the boardroom.”
And even President Barack Obama frequently utters phrases such as, “this was a very personal decision for Michelle and I.”
In my view, the incorrect use of “I” is worse than the incorrect use of “me.” Someone who uses the word “me” incorrectly may sound immature or uneducated. But a person who uses “I” incorrectly comes across as a poseur who has adopted some silly affectation for the purpose of impressing others.
Is it really so difficult? One doesn’t need to be able to diagram sentences or identify the difference between a subject and an object in order to speak correctly. Think of it this way, kids: You would never say, “Me is going to the pool,” so please don’t say “Rosie and me are going to the pool.” And, Mr. President: You would never say “this was a very personal decision for I.” So, please don’t say it was “a very personal decision for Michelle and I.”
For the sake of the next generation, let us all put aside our narcissism, our linguistic laziness, and our desire to impress our peers, and try to get this right.