Listening to how English is spoken nowadays is one more indicator of
our decline in values and standards. It’s not just the foul language and
loose talk; it’s also the widespread corruption of the English language
and ignorance of grammatical principles, even among the educated. How
about a few examples?
“I’d like to invite your wife and yourself to dinner.” The word
“yourself” is a reflexive pronoun. Its proper use requires that it
refer back to another word in the sentence. For example, “Walter injured
himself.” Or, the pronoun can be used intensively for emphasis: “Walter
himself was injured.” In both cases, himself refers back to Walter.
Here’s one that takes me back five decades. “He is taller than me.”
Whenever I hear that error, I visualize Dr. Martin Rosenberg, my high
school English teacher, with his hands on his waist, sarcastically
asking, “Do you mean, ‘He is taller than me am’?” Am is the understood,
elliptical or left out, verb at the end of the sentence. The subject of
a verb must be in the nominative case. To be grammatically correct, the
sentence must read, “He is taller than I.”
How about this one? “Big banks don’t loan money to poor people.”
Sorry folks. Loan is a noun. One needs a verb, perhaps lend. Then
there’s, “That’s like you saying he deserved to lose.” Verbs ending in
“ing” are gerunds. The subject of a gerund must be in the possessive
case. The sentence should read, “That’s like your saying he deserved to
You say, “Williams, what’s the business with the grammar lesson?”
There are a couple of points. I attended Philadelphia’s Benjamin
Franklin High School, graduating in 1954. During those days, Benjamin
Franklin was a predominantly black school attended by the city’s poorest
children. It definitely wasn’t a school of one’s first choice.
Also, in stark contrast to today, Philadelphia’s mayor was white; its
city council was just about all white; there never had been a black
superintendent of schools; and there were no black high-school
principals. Despite this, we received an education far superior to that
received by today’s Benjamin Franklin High School students. In fact, if
it were possible to bring the Benjamin Franklin of 1954 to year 2000, I’d
wager it would be Philadelphia’s public high school with just about the
highest level of academic standards.
The Benjamin Franklin High School of the 1950s had none of those
things education experts tell us is necessary for black academic
achievement. We didn’t have “role” models; most of the teachers were
white. To my recollection, there were only two black teachers.
There wasn’t a lot of concern about “self-esteem.” I know that
personally, for I was a bit of a miscreant and teachers minced no words
in airing their displeasure with me. There was no tracking, or ability
grouping. We weren’t allowed to express ourselves by using foul language
to, and in the presence of, adults.
Finally, there wasn’t the kind of money spent today on education.
Because of racial discrimination, at the time, I’d wager that Benjamin
Franklin didn’t have a budget commensurate with Philadelphia’s
predominantly white high schools.
I’m old-fashioned, and that’s what I tell my economics students when
they complain about lost points on their essay examinations. They might
complain, “This is not an English class!” I respond, “But, English is
the language we’re using.” In doing so, I don’t mind telling you that I
feel as though I’m the last of the Mohicans.