It’s been said that we live in an age of hyper-correctness.
These days it seems that society can’t get out of bed in the morning without its daily dose of political correctness, and we all tiptoe around in an acrobatic attempt to avoid offending groups of people we have decided are worthy of special protection. We are all very careful to refer to these groups using the most up-to-date words, and any failure to do so results in scandalized opprobrium from those who are most fully “in the know.” When someone gets it wrong, it’s never long before someone else makes it all too clear.
Because we spend so much time making sure to be correct in this political realm, our inflated sense of correctness bleeds into other areas, as well. For instance, I now hear a number of grammatical mistakes that result from people trying too hard to get it right. Here are a few:
This is a gift from your mother and I.
Actually, this is a gift from your mother and me. Just because you include yourself in a verbal phrase with the word ‘and’ does not require you to refer to yourself as ‘I.’ In fact, where you are included as the object of a prepositional phrase, the correct pronoun is almost always ‘me.’ However, because it’s simpler to teach children never to include yourself with “and me” (after all, doing so is usually wrong), hyper-correctness applies the rule unnecessarily here.
It was such a nice day that I decided to lay out in the sun.
Here, because both ‘lie’ and ‘lay’ are irregular verbs, many people opt for what seems more irregular because, I suppose, it seems more likely to be correct. When in doubt, in other words, go with the stranger of the two—knowing English grammar, it’s probably the right choice. But that would be the wrong conclusion to draw here. In fact, the only thing you can ‘lay’ in the present tense is an egg (and, come to think of it, you can’t even do that). ‘Lay’ also works with some prepositions, as in to ‘lay out’ funds or to ‘lay into’ someone. The rest of the time, though, it only works as the preterite of ‘lie’—i.e., while today I will lie out in the sun, yesterday I lay inside.
If you have any questions after the lecture, please speak to Professor Franklin or myself.
This one is hyper-correctness at its worst. There is no earthly reason to use ‘myself’ in this sentence, but because it sounds more formal (even more legalistic, perhaps), people seem to think it’s the right way to go. Unfortunately, it results in sheer grammatical ridiculousness, since ‘myself’ (along with any other pronoun ending in -self) is reflexive and therefore can only apply to actions one does to or with oneself. You, or your neighbor, or even the Queen of England cannot talk to myself; only I can do that. And you can talk to yourself, and she can talk to herself, and so on. In this sentence, the speaker should simply say, “Talk to me.”
Interestingly, however, while hyper-correctness has led us to substitute ‘myself’ for ‘me’ and ‘vertically challenged’ for ‘short,’ it has not yet managed to make people pronounce common foreign terms correctly. (You knew I had to get to bruschetta eventually.)
The other day, I was going about my business on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It has already begun to feel like summer, and I had gone with a certain someone to enjoy a glass of wine and an appetizer on the patio of a small restaurant outside of town. The breeze was blowing, there were several white wines on the menu, and it was (as I’m sure I don’t even need to tell you) the perfect day for bruschetta.
Now, after learning the secret from a good friend in Boston, I make a pretty excellent bruschetta myself. It’s one of the simplest appetizers in the world and requires no cooking, and I’ve found very few that I prefer to my own. But from time to time, when it’s on the menu and the mood strikes, I like to see what other places do with the simple dish.
And just to get this out there, the word ‘bruschetta’ is absolutely, positively pronounced with a ‘K’ sound in the middle. The ‘sch,’ in other words, is hard—just as in ‘paschal,’ ‘scherzo,’ or ‘scheme.’ Written phonetically, it is broŏ’sketə, in case anyone wants to know.
Apparently, our server didn’t want to know. Here’s where the hyper-correctness comes in: as soon as I had ordered the appetizer, he came right back with a modification. “Oh, you mean brussssssssshhhhhetta?” he replied.
Now, because I happened to be with someone whose company I esteem very highly, I decided to let it go. After all, what would be served by re-correcting (or perhaps un-correcting) my server? Oh, perhaps a small but substantial vindication of the entire Italian language, but aside from that…
At the same time, though, it really irked me that I, who knew exactly how the word ought to be pronounced, was corrected by someone who clearly did not. I have a hard enough time handling correction when I’m in the wrong, much less when I know I’m in the right! And yet I smiled and swallowed my words, together with a very large mouthful of that-appetizer-which-shall-not-be-named.
Honestly, I had half a mind to ask him if he could bring over some Eye-talian dressing to serve on the side.
Of course, I realize that I’m making an Apennine out of an appetizer here. But it bothers me that some self-important server is running around somewhere in a small town in Wisconsin, instructing well-meaning patrons in how to butcher the Italian language and mispronounce their words. Isn’t there enough error in the world already, without him creating more?
I don’t think I’m free from error. I’m sure that when I place my order at a French restaurant, I make all sorts of mistakes with regard to my entrée. But if that’s the case, I would expect to be corrected. That’s what should be done when someone is wrong.
If you ask me, though, there’s far too much correcting going on when someone is right—and that applies as much to what we call political “correctness” as it does to anything else.