7.17.2013

Rivera and Shakespeare: Perfect in every way

Mariano Rivera, the Yankees' closer, is in his 13th and final All-Star Game. 
I'm a baseball fan, but I usually watch the All Star game anyway. Last night, as Mariano Rivera (soon-to-be-retired legendary Yankee reliever) exited the game to great fanfare and ovation, announcer Tim McCarver made the proclamation: "A man who has never received any criticism of any kind." Lucky old Mariano's mom—little Mariano devoured his vegetables and kept his room inspection-ready every moment of every day.

It made me think of Shakespeare (writer of plays for the Elizabethan stage). While he lacks a brazen enthusiast on the order of Tim McCarver, he does have his share of defenders. One of them, in hyperbolic frenzy, could feasibly insist that he, too, is "a man who has never received criticism of any kind."

This came up over at the Common Errors in English Usage Daily Entry blog a couple of weeks ago. The entry was specifically about the expression "between you and me" vs. "between you and I," with a preference for the former in standard usage. A commenter protested—rightly, perhaps—the softness of the recommendation:
Are you really saying that "between you and I" is vaguely acceptable? Does that mean that "They gave a gift to I" is also vaguely acceptable? However will we teach anyone the rules of grammar if we allow the inclusion of another person to permit "I" as an objective case pronoun?
I followed up with a comment to the effect that while English grammar requires the objective case, me, when following a preposition, in English usage there are plenty of well-educated native speakers of English who naturally say "between you and I." In written English the numbers are strongly in favor of "between you and me," but even there someone could play the Shakespeare card, noting that the Bard himself wrote in The Merchant of Venice, "All debts are cleared between you and I."

Whether he deserves it or not, Shakespeare gets all kinds of slack when it comes to grammar. It may be that grammar as we know it was not codified in Shakespeare's day, it may be that Shakespeare was very self-aware in his preference for usage over structure, or it may be something else. But there are many instances of Shakespeare engaged in usage that seems quite incorrect to us. The essay linked to above points to expressions like "more fitter" and "most unkindest," plus a seeming lack of nominative and subjective case sense to distinguish "who" from "whom."

This really comes down to the grammar vs. usage dichotomy, which actually is not normally a dichotomy at all. English usage and English grammar are quite often one and the same. But there are times you just have to play it as it lays [an ungrammatical use of the verb "to lie"] and let a feel for proper usage, rather than formal grammar, be your guide. In other words, loudly and proudly announce "It's me!" and not "It is I" when you arrive home from work tonight. Really, really do that, because there really are times good grammar will destroy you.

So by all means, study the structure of grammar, but if you never want to receive any criticism of any kind, you need to understand English usage.

7 comments:

Justine Damiano said...

Hey Tom,

I love the Common Errors site and the blog! A great tool for writers and curious minds.

But from one writer to another, I have a question for you. You start this blog off by saying
"I'm a baseball fan, but I usually watch the All Star game anyway."
Shouldn't read "I'm not a baseball fan, but..." or "I'm a baseball fan and i usually..."

So the real question is are you a baseball fan or not?

Tom said...

Thank you for the kind words, Justine.

This was an attempt at humor, but in fact this was misguided because the audience that would appreciate the joke would be limited to other baseball fans who are prone to disparaging the All Star game--certainly a minority among the readers of the Common Errors site.

For the record, yes, I am a fan of baseball, but I regard the week of the All Star break and the All Star game itself as just that: a break in the season when I wish the season could continue right on through; I look forward to having regular games start up again.

I complain, but at least there is only ONE break!

Justine Damiano said...

Haha Thanks for clearing that up, Tom. It really is a good joke, I just misunderstood!

Anonymous said...

I apologize as I don't know where to post this, but I'm an online English teacher who imbeds links to the common errors, on students' papers. My comment is that my students are badly in need of a page on ones vs. one's.

Tom said...

There is no dedicated ones/one's entry on the Common Errors site, but these are mentioned in three other entries:
its/it's
once/ones
these ones/these

David said...

Not sure if this is covered on the Common Errors site: "English usage and English grammar are quite often one in the same."

But...isn't 'one and the same' the idiom you are looking for here?

Tom said...

Thank you, David. Now fixed. That's one I have to remind myself of, since I grew up with "one in the same." Paul's entry is here:

http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/oneinsame.html

. . . and this is the acknowledged traditional idiom, though you will find "one in the same" is indeed the all-to-common substitution, even in edited material.

Thanks for reading--I see you made it to the end!