By ANNE DONNELL
I heard a basketball coach in an interview (Final Four) say, “That’s me.” I began wondering -- is it really so bad that we say, “That’s me,” instead of “That’s I”? I know about the cases and all that structure, but most people say things like, “That’s me,” or “That would be me.” If we can break this rule, why not everything else? -Still Wondering
Hmm. An anarchist? Maybe not. Our QP of T (Question Person of Today) used standard spelling and punctuation, so it appears that he or she is not leading, by example at least, the 2010 English Language Revolution. Perhaps QP of T is identifying a small uprising that has captured the hill. Perhaps for good (good?) Last week’s column dealt with change in language – here we are again. Relax.
ONLINE DEPARTMENT “Actual Call Center Calls” (Thanks, J.A.) • Tech Support: I need you to right-click on the Open Desktop. Customer: OK. Tech Support: Did you get a pop-up menu? Customer: No. Tech Support: OK. Right-Click again. Do you see a pop-up menu? Customer: No. Tech Support: OK, sir. Can you tell me what you have done up until this point? Customer: Sure. You told me to write 'click' and I wrote 'click'. • Tech Support: OK. At the bottom left hand side of your screen, can you see the 'OK' button displayed? Customer: Wow! How can you see my screen from there? • Operator: Ridge Hall, computer assistance; may I help you? Caller: Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect. Operator: What sort of trouble? Caller: Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away. Operator: Went away? Caller: They disappeared. Operator: Hmm. So what does your screen look like now? Caller: Nothing. Operator: Nothing? Caller: It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type. [a set of instructions from the operator follow with responses from the caller like “What’s a C-prompt? “What’s a monitor?”] Operator: Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that? Caller: Yes, I think so. Operator: Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it's plugged into the wall. Caller: 'Yes, it is. Operator: When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one? Caller: No. Operator: Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable. Caller: Okay, here it is. Operator: Follow it for me, and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of your computer. Caller: I can't reach Operator: 'OK. Well, can you see if it is? Caller: No. Operator: Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over ? Caller 'Well, it's not because I don't have the right angle -- it's because it's dark. Operator: Dark? Caller: Yes - the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window. Operator: Well, turn on the office light then. Caller: I can't. Operator: No? Why not? Caller: Because there's a power failure. [The operator, who supposedly was fired for this, then tells the caller to pack up the computer and return it to the seller. The buyer is to tell the seller that he, the buyer, is too stupid to own a computer. Well, that bug can bite many of us]
So, what about “That’s me”? In North Texas Christian Writers (online) I found, unsigned, this comment: A grammatically correct phrase isn’t necessarily the right choice. Our culture sometimes demands that we say it wrong. Wait. To be grammatically correct, I should have written: Our culture sometimes demands that we say it wrongly. Which is better to say when referring to yourself, “That’s me,” or That’s I”? If we use “That is I” to be grammatically correct, our audience may think we’re the ones who are ignorant. But fear of being thought ignorant is a rather weak defense most days.
We’re looking for what’s correct here and the answer isn’t that simple.
Singing a familiar tune, sung just last week in fact in “Ask Anne” April 14, The Wilson Post, I’ll say that language changes with each user, often threatening to move away in new directions. Going back in time to Chaucer’s England, we understand little or nothing of what was being spoken or written. Well, there are a few ringers here. The church folk use Latin, the court folk use French. The commoners are mumbling English, considered patois (uneducated, provincial speech) by many of the upper class. Chaucer changes the course of language development on that relatively little island and, therefore, other big patches of the world, by writing in English. Two hundred plus years later there’s Shakespeare, another famous changer (added many words and pushed English to a level of magnificence in sound and wisdom that guaranteed permanence. Well, armies and sailing ships under the English flag contributed here, too.) [Geoffrey Chaucer, 1340?-1400. Early English poet, Chaucer’s most famous work is The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories written in Middle-English, tales told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.]
So what’s the answer? The structure of English, defined by the rules, is a reflection of the very similar structure found in at least two of its great sources, Latin and French. Despite the onslaught of preference and change, the rules have stood and now stand rather firm. We can have change without revolution in more than politics. But, we can also acknowledge an informality in language that works well; around here we like it in our everyday speech, in our country music. We understand that term papers, letters seeking employment, the evening news, and speeches made before Congress should reflect formal, following-the-rules English. (Often don’t, but should.)
“That’s me,” with its contraction and misuse of case clearly marking it nonstandard and informal, is comfortable, common, and not going away.