Printer Friendly

It's only me.

The other night I was prowling around in the dark, and my wife shouted, "Who's there?" I answered, "It's only me."

"I'm disappointed," she said.

"Who were you expecting?"

"I'm disappointed again," she said. From her tone I immediately realized she objected to my usage, not to my prowling.

She thought I should have said I instead of me and whom instead of who. My wife is a very light sleeper, and a lot of her pillow talk has to do with whether I'm doing something right.

The trouble this time was a point of grammar that came into vogue about four score and a hundred years ago. At that time somebody observed that Latin, being the "language of scholars," would make a good model for English. Do as the Romans did--when they were alive.

Early grammarians in England and America thought modern English should be spoken as ancient Latin was. They said it is r, is right and "It's me" is wrong. With Latin as a model, they preached that a sentence with is in the middle should be reversible. That is, "It is me" is wrong because "Me is it" is wrong. "It is f' is right because i is it"--well, to understand their reasoning, you have to have been there.

The truth is, English isn't built on the Latin pattern. Ours is a word-order language. When we say, "Man bites dog," it's the man who does it and the dog that gets it. But when we say, "Dog bites man," it's the other wa around. Not so in Latin. When a citizen of Rome wanted to show who did the biting, he'd put -us on the end of the word. To show who got it, he'd put -um on the end. in Latin it didn't matter which came first; what mattered was the word endings.

So when Marc Antony or Brutus or someone like that said, "Manus bitet dogum" it meant "Man bites dog." And when he said, "Dogum bitet manus," it still meant "Man bites dog." If the dog had bitten the man, it wouldn't have been news, and not even a soothsayer would have mentioned it.

Anyway, Latin wasn't the basis or model for English. And French wasn't either. French really was based on Latin, but that didn't mean that Louis XIV had to speak like Caesar. Louis said, L'etat, c'est moi"-"the state, that's me." The French, even today, never say,

It is l."

In today's English you can do it Caesar's way or Louis XIV's. But it's more fun to forget the models. I don't worry about whether to say "It is l' or "It's me" unless the person I'm talking to will care. My wife doesn't really care. She just likes to have fun with me ... about usage.

Somehow, "It's me" has the right ring to it. it is r, sounds affected. As the 20th century slouches toward its grand finale, you can travel the CB circuits with truckers, have chow with American GI's, and even break bread with sensible English professors and never hear any of them say, "It is I."

Years ago the song went, "It's only me from over the sea, Barnacle Bill the Sailor." More than rhyme was involved. It just wouldn't sound right for a sailor to say, "It's only l." If today it were a wandering E.T. coming from outer s ace, he mi ht sing "It's only I from up in the sky." It rhymes, but I wouldn't take him in.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:grammar
Author:Smith, Wen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Something new under the sun: Seville - the city that launched Columbus - is about to be discovered, as Expo '92 prepares a tribute to the past and...
Next Article:Red Octorber's Tom Clancy: after the hunt.

Related Articles
Schools face big cutbacks in changeover.
Grammar: defying definition beyond two millennia.
Good writing skills bolster SAT success.
More grammar gaps.
NUT hits out at council silence on selection; EDUCATION MATTERS.
From The Forum; Your views on spelling and grammar. Have your say by visiting www.birminghammailnet/forums.
Thanks so much Andy.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters