Work of Art: It's me? Or It's I?

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By Art Trujillo

Remember a few weeks ago when some of us spotted an unusual expression in Parade Magazine? The cover story, about a female football coach identified the woman as “one of the only” such coaches. The issue was whether “one of” can ever be an “only.”

A column followed on that and other strange uses of language. Well, the same publication, Parade, chose a strange way of expressing things at least once before — or so I thought. Back in the days when popular heartthrobs Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were courting, Parade published a cover story titled “Debbie and Me.”

Immediately, I double-checked the title, read through the entire article and puzzled over how in the world a copy editor could let such a thing slip: “Debbie and Me” — such temerity, and such butchering of basic grammar rules in English. It just had to be “Debbie and I.” I would have e-mailed Parade’s editors right away, but the Internet hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, most mail got around with a 4-cent stamp. That was in 1954.

One of the more common misusages of the language comes from confusion of pronouns. Somewhere in the womb of time, it was written that thou shalt always struggle with personal pronouns. If there is any form of a linking verb (is, are, am, was, were, etc.), we use the nominative, I, he, she, it. The rest of the time (for the most part), we use the objective form, me, him, her, it, them. And usually, me, him, her, them and it appear at the end of the sentence.

The Parade Magazine headline indeed was correct. Apparently, the implied meaning was “This article is about Debbie and me (not I).” It’s when we have more than one pronoun to wrestle with, we forget which one to use at the end of the sentence. So it’s common to hear, “They gave the money to she and I.” They gave it to she? To I? In cases like this, we can cite a bevy of rules, but it’s sometimes simpler to ask ourselves what we would say if only one pronoun were involved. Or better yet, omit the pronoun altogether and name names.

I’m acquainted with a number of Buckeyes whose Ohio influence has changed their version of the English language. Some in-laws take freedoms with possessives as well as pronouns, compounding the above issue considerably. Let’s say, for example, that two people own a car. We could say, “That car belongs to Frank and me.” Or we could say, “That’s Frank’s and my car.” But what I hear — something I never expected — is, “That’s Frank and I’s car.” Now the first-person pronoun also becomes a possessive.

Yet, unless we’re soul mates of Koran-loathing Florida Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach church, we’d never say, “That’s I’s car.” It gets complicated, and with these examples, I see several columns brewing for the Work of Art hopper.

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Paula Abdul, a judge on American Idol, incurred the wrath of many when she said to a contestant, “This is your niche.” A niche is a recess in a wall for a statue or ornament; it also refers to a comfortable position in employment or in life.

According to Patricia C. O’Conner, author of Origins of the Specious, fans of the show jumped all over her, not for what she said but for how she pronounced it: nitch instead of neesh. One reader wrote, “For the love of God … would someone please tell Paula that there is no such word as nitch.”

The trouble is, Paula was right.

Traditionally, “niche” has been pronounced “nitch,” but notice how “neesh” is gaining in popularity? In Britain, for example, neesh is now considered standard. That’s how words and pronunciations make it into the dictionary and into common usage. The more people use and pronounce certain words, the more they become accepted, albeit reluctantly, by me at least.

Language is what people say it is, not what the proverbial Miss Grundy dictates. So I’ll stop my beeshing.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.