I was idly reading Twitter one day a couple of weeks ago when I came across a tweet from Hazel Price, a Ph.D. student in linguistics at the University of Huddersfield in England:
Someone had the same response as I and undoubtedly others did, and tweeted back two words: “Me and?” Price responded by explaining that starting a tweet off with someone’s handle -- in this case @danguage -- means something specific on Twitter, which she didn’t want to communicate in this case. Therefore, “I started it with ‘me’ (also fine). It was a practical decision. #languagepedantry.”
Some of the responses to Price’s response:
As Price’s all-caps megaphone comment suggests, it’s unquestionable that the “Me and [name/pronoun] verb” or "[Name/pronoun] and me verb” constructions — which the Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky calls “AccConjSubj” (for accusative conjoined subjects) — aren’t acceptable in formal English. But “me and ... " has a surprising pull, power, and persistence in other corners.
For one thing, kids gravitate to it, as authors writing about kids have long recognized. In Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians, Mark Twain has narrator, Huck, say: "... so him and me took the animals and a bucket, and left Tom in camp and struck down our hill and rode across the valley to water them.” And, from Horatio Alger, Jack’s Ward: Or, the Boy Guardian: “Now, me and him had a muss years afore, and we both got the worst o’ it, so that naythur was satisfied.”
AccConjSubj shows up in the 1872 testimony of one “Augustus Blair (colored)” before a Congressional committee studying on “the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States.”
Blair described a visit to his house by members of the Ku Klux Klan. He was asked if the men had disguises. He answered, “Only one of the men had; Dick Hands had on a disguise. I knew him. Me and him was raised together. He had a little piece over his face.”
The Klan members brutally beat Blair’s grown son; he died within a year.
Hazel Price isn’t the only educated person fond of AccConjSubj. My Ivy League-graduate daughter uses it all the time in tweets, emails, and Instagram posts. At about the time of Price’s tweet, I was reading John Le Carré's latest novel, Legacy of Spies. At one point one of the spies is heard on a recording saying, “Me and Ben lower the boom on him.” Another says this line of dialogue: “If you don’t mind, you and me will take a stroll round the precincts.”
One of the things going on here is the power of the accusative case in general. Zwicky, who has written widely on the subject, offers this axiom: “Unless otherwise stipulated, the case of an NP is Acc.” NP stands for noun phrase, but here it refers explicitly to pronouns. The “otherwise stipulated” situation is a pronoun standing alone as the subject of a sentence; it needs to be nominative. “Me went to the store” is ungrammatical in every register of English. Otherwise, the default case for pronouns is accusative, aka objective. The answer to the question “Who wants candy?” isn’t “I,” but “Me.” The expression is “Me, too,” not “I, too.” In conjoined NPs, you can see the pull of of the accusative merely by looking at titles: “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “You and Me Against the World,” “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” and, speaking of dogs, Marley and Me.
A word about word order is in order. The notion that first-person pronouns should always come last in a series or pair, drummed in to all of our heads at an early age, is an issue not of grammar but of conventional politeness. The drumming in is so strong that Price apparently didn’t even think of starting out “I and @danguage. ... " Interestingly, her tweet and many of the above examples suggest that when we use me in a conjoined phrase, we feel OK about putting it first.
And AccConjSubj in complete sentences? Again, it clearly violates the rules of formal English, but Zwicky and others argue that it isn’t necessarily ungrammatical. As Huddleston and Pullum write in A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar:
the pattern in “Kim and me went to the store” is heard constantly in the conversation of people whose status as speakers of Standard English is clear, but it is nevertheless condemned as incorrect and illiterate by many usage manuals. For this reason it is not so common in print: Editors will often “correct” it. Nonetheless, examples are certainly found. Those who condemn it simply assume that the case of a pronoun in a coordination must be the same as when it stands alone. Actual usage is in conflict with this assumption.
“The case of a pronoun in a coordination must be the same as when it stands alone.” The conviction that that is true speaks, of course, to the most peeved-on grammar “error” of our time, the use of nominative pronouns in sentences like “Thanks for inviting my wife and I.” (Zwicky calls this NomConjObj.) Back in 2012, I mounted a sort of two-cheers defense of the usage and changed exactly zero minds.
Indeed, if the Lingua Franca desk ever sends out a call to write about it again, I know what my response will be: