Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 60

1. AOTW: I have no specific candidates this week--just the usual dorks in traffic and some corporal arrogance at the health club, and ... my own ridiculous behavior now and then. One day I will mature.

2. In my recent reading of some recent books, I've been surprised to come across a grammatical construction that I'd always taught (and had always been taught) was nonstandard. I've seen it enough recently that I realize these are not mistakes; no, the Change has arrived (or is arriving). See the italicized portions below.
  • My brother is taller than I.
  • My brother is taller than me.
Since I was a Wee Lad (and under the tutelage of my English-teaching mother and my savant of an older brother), I've always written--and spoken--the former. The grammatical logic? Than is a conjunction that is followed by a subordinate clause, a clause that the full sentence does not reproduce in total. It's elliptical. In other words, it really goes like this: My brother is taller than I am. Dropping the am does not alter the grammar of the sentence.

Lately, I've been doing some reading about this issue in usage manuals, in unabridged dictionaries, and online, and some who prefer taller than me are arguing that than is a preposition (or has become one), and a preposition requires an object--like me. However, the Oxford English Dictionary does not--in its entry about than--say it can be a preposition. But other usage mavens are noting that Change Is in the Air (and, obviously, in numerous books I've read).

Now (bored yet?), in this construction there are cases that do require the objective case for the pronoun.
  • She loves her mom more than (me, I).
Both can be acceptable, depending on what the writer intends.
  • She loves her mom more than [she loves] me.
  • She loves her mom more than I [do].
I tend to agree with some of the authorities who say that it's perhaps a better idea to look for a different way to construct such sentences--to complete them, if necessary (not to make them elliptical). The reason? If you use me, some hearers/readers will think you don't know the rule; if you use I, some may think you are an uppity/pretentious/elitist/latte-drinking Yuppie/GrammarGeek.

I do avoid some constructions now for precisely this sort of reason. Usage panels are starting to prefer sentences like this to the alternative: Everyone brought their books instead of Everyone brought his or her book. I avoid this clunker by using plurals. All the students brought their books.

Anyway, what's bothered me lately is that I've seen--multiple times, in multiple recent books--sentences like this: My brother was bigger than me. To me--and to my ear--that's just "wrong." But, clearly, the sentence survived the copy-editing routine. It's not there by mistake. 

(By the way, I'm not talking about an intentional colloquialism--the kind you might find in dialogue. No, I'm talking about books written in otherwise conventional, even academic, diction--Standard English stuff.)

But I also realize that rules change over time (and that we made up all of this stuff--it did not come down from the mountain with Moses) and that perhaps the tide is shifting. Or has shifted.

Fine. Let it. But I'm going to keep doing it the way I was taught. My mom is still alive, and I just know that if I say bigger than me, she will learn what I've done. And shake her head, once again, in disappointment. No one can be more conservative about language than she.

3. I'd ordered Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman when I first heard the news it was coming. It's arrived. I haven't read it yet (ambivalence is deep), but Joyce has started it, so I have an excuse. For a while.

4. On Friday night, Joyce and I went to see Trainwreck (link to YouTube trailer for film), mainly because (a) I go see Apatow films (shame on me--sometimes), (b) I heard LeBron is pretty good in it (he is), (c) we've heard so much about Amy Schumer but have never watched her perform (she was good). Her screenplay was very funny in places (and middle-school gross in more than a few places, too), and we enjoyed the parts (large and small) played by current and former SNL cast members--Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Pete Davidson, Tim Meadows, Leslie Jones. And, of course, the male lead, Bill Hader, was an SNL superstar.

We also enjoyed seeing one of our stand-up comedy favorites, Mike Birbiglia, playing the doofus husband of Amy's sister, Brie Larson (from 21 Jump Street). Tilda Swinton as Amy's boss was, as usual, superb. And there were cameos by Daniel Radcliffe, Marissa Tomei, and numerous others.

The arc of the story is achingly familiar to fans of romantic comedies--all the way back to Shakespeare (SPOILER ALERT): girl finds guy, guy and girl fall in love, someone screws up (almost always the guy--not this time ... well, he's not always the most sensitive of companions), LOVE breaks out after a montage of loneliness.

5. I've been having one of those Weird Weeks--thinking all week long that it's a day later than it actually is. I'm typing this paragraph on Friday evening, and I've been thinking all day that it's Saturday. Another example: At the coffee shop where I go each morning, there's a group always there on Friday morning. It's a weekly gathering of friends. When I got home Thursday morning, I told Joyce they hadn't appeared. She reminded me it was Thursday. And, yes, they were present on Friday.

6. We've had our first TMW (Two-Movie Weekend) in quite a while. On Saturday night we saw: Mr. Holmes (link to YouTube trailer for the film) with the wonderful Ian McKellen as the aging detective (in his early 90s), now fighting dementia and the great traitor we all must battle: our own bodies. Holmes has gone into retirement--principally because of his final case, a case whose details he is struggling to recall and write about. He lives near the cliffs of Dover (which we see in all their glory) with his widowed housekeeper (oh, have I always loved Laura Linney!), her precocious young son, and his bees (he has an apiary out back).

Several plot strands: his relationship with his housekeeper and the boy (who in some ways is very like him), his struggle to remember his final case, his relationship with a Japanese man whose father was (was not?) a figure in Holmes' past, an issue with dying bees (not irrelevant to the rest, by the way), his battles with his own body.

It was one of those films I didn't want to end.

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