Middleton Falls Into a Trap, Basically

In his column on May 22, Thomas Middleton, whom I enjoy reading, rages against the coming of the barbarian night, in this case represented by the indiscriminate substitution of the subjective case for the objective case (“The Strange Case of the Objective Case”).

Who is responsible for this breakdown, do you suppose? Henry Aldrich of pre-WWII radio with his arch, “Are you speaking to I, mother?” It used to bother me more than it does now that objects of prepositions were paraded as subjects, but I find myself (betrayed by an ear that hears the ubiquitous she and I and he and they and we when I should be hearing her and me and him and them and us) making the same mistake, so how can I be horrified?

Middleton may feel I should be the more horrified, but at least I haven’t, like him, fallen into the “basically” trap. Catch his ". . . the teacher was probably a ‘linguist’ . . . whose idea of teaching language structure is basically to tell. . . .” Of what use is “basically”? It simply tells us that the writer, like the rest of us, repeats what he hears without thinking.

The world isn’t really “going to hell in a shopping cart” just because we recognize, by our sociable imitation of what we hear, that language has reasons that reason knows not of, or because we can rationalize some of the changes that constantly occur. Isn’t it better to try to figure out what’s going on than to talk haughtily of proper grammatical structure? Basically.


Laguna Beach