Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Please, Just Stop

I'm not a pedant. I can overlook a lot of the little liberties people take with the English language because I'm certainly not perfect. But if I hear one more improper use of the phrase "you and I," I think I'm going to scream.

This problem seems to be endemic to songwriters. Maybe it's because it sounds proper or eloquent or something to say you and I as opposed to the correct you and me, thus lending some kind of elevated status to the lyrics. Or perhaps it's because the next line requires the use of I for rhyming purposes. Whatever the reason, it's not good enough to butcher the language, and instead of endearing the song to me, grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard and causes me to wince when I hear the opening strains, knowing what is soon to come.

Specifically, what got my panties in a twist this morning is the Keith Urban song, "Tonight I Want to Cry." Lyrics are as follows:

Alone in this house again tonight
I got the TV on, the sound turned down and a bottle of wine
There's pictures of you and I on the walls around me
The way that it was and could have been surrounds me
I'll never get over you walkin' away

Now, I can see how changing the wording to be correct results in a very awkward repetition of me - There's pictures of you and me on the walls around me - but, hey, even in the country song writing business, there's no such thing as a free lunch. If you're a person of Keith's success and fame, I think it's worth the extra half hour or so to find a way to make it work. In fact, without having the melody running in the background to be certain, I think even There's pictures of us on the walls around me would work well enough beat-wise. (And I'm ignoring, for this particular rant, the miss-use of There's since it should, properly, be There are pictures...)

I know Mr. Urban is Australian, but I have it on very good authority from friends who live in Sydney that Australians don't make a habit of saying "There's pictures of I on the walls..." so, sorry, Keith, differences in Australian and US English won't cut it for an excuse.

For any songwriters out there who simply do it wrong because they don't quite understand the rules, I'll clarify them right here. The word I is a personal pronoun used when I am the subject of the sentence:

I am going to the store.
I like chocolate mint Girl Scout cookies.
I tore my pantyhose, and now I am in a really bad mood.

If I and a friend are doing something together, I remains I:

Tina and I are having lunch.
The kids and I love pizza with extra cheese.
My husband and I went to St. Thomas on our honeymoon.

When I become the object of the sentence, I becomes me:

Wendy [subject] gave me [indirect object] the book on King Henry VIII's six wives.
Jenny [subject] told me [indirect object] the neighbor across the street is having an affair with the cable repair man.

Even when another person joins in the fun, me does not become I if we are still the objects of the sentence:

There are pictures of you and me on the wall.
The dog woke my husband and me up this morning by jumping on our bed and barking for her breakfast.
The doctor told Grandma and me that Uncle Charlie only has three months to live.

If all this object/subject stuff is just too high school grammar class to remember, there is a very easy test to make sure you have it right - a test any songwriter can apply with little effort. Simply take away the other person and see how the sentence sounds:

There are pictures of you and I on the wall.
The dog woke my husband and I up this morning by jumping on my bed and barking for her breakfast.
The doctor told Grandma and I that Uncle Charlie only has three months to live.

Uh...yeah, no. Doesn't work, does it?

So, Keith, maybe you could pass the word? No more sloppy lyrics, if you please. It's killing I me.

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