Something I Feel Bad About
Good is bad. Me is even worse. Badly is great, and I is always right. This, at least, is the impression one gets from hearing native American speakers go painfully out of their way to avoid making mistakes in grammar. It is ironic that English, which has a very flexible and forgiving grammatical structure, compels people to the most awkward contrivances to avoid breaking rules that either don’t exist or are terribly misunderstood. I do not know if the original English speakers are having these same problems today, though I suspect that they are, given Churchill’s proclamation that the notion one cannot end a sentence with a proposition was “an idle pedantry up with which I shall not put.” You and me, Winston, baby.
The trouble apparently began with English writers who were determined to latinize English. A preposition cannot go after the word it governs in Latin, so some writers (who shall remain nameless) decided to voluntarily tie one linguistic hand behind their backs and subject English to the same restriction. There’s a reason Latin is a dead language and English is the first world language. I don’t know what that reason is, but here it is convenient to assume that it has to do with the greater economy of expression and flexibility of a language that allows you to say, “F@#& off” . H. W. Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage laments that the superstition that sentences not end with a preposition is “not yet dead”. That was written in 1926. In his words, “The legitimacy of the prepositional ending in literary English must be uncompromisingly maintained; in respect of elegance or inelegance, every example must be judged not by any arbitrary rule, but on its own merits, according to the impression it makes on the feeling of educated English readers”. As my father wrote (in a textbook on English grammar, no less), “a preposition is what you want to end your sentence with? Go ahead and put it in.”
Would you really rather say, “I’d like someone with whom to talk” than “I’d like someone to talk to”? “That’s something of which I’m proud” than “That’s something I’m proud of”? “Inside is where he went” than “He went inside”? “Off is how you should f@#&” than “F@#& off”? “That is an idle pedantry up with which I shall not put” than “That is an idle pedantry that I shall not put up with”? Then ahead is how you should go.
Those who criticize Captain Kirk’s Star Trek preamble, “…to boldly go where no man has gone before” for splitting the infinitive “to go” with “boldly” are also paying blind allegiance to some 19th-century English writers’ desire to make English conform to Latin grammar. You know why the adverb never “splits” the infinitive in Latin? Because infinitives are one f@#&ing word in Latin!
Yes, “Where is it at” is bad English. But so is “Send an e-mail to Brad or I” (and I hear this one all the time), but that doesn’t mean you can’t end a sentence with a personal pronoun. “Send an e-mail to I or Brad” is just as bad. Please, for the love of all that’s good, use “me” as the object of your prepositions, not “I”. Never ask someone to “call Sue or I” or, worse to “call she or I”. I never hear anyone say “call or e-mail I” or “call or e-mail she”, but once more than two people are involved, me-phobia sets in. Or should I say “in is where me-phobia sets”?
Another lamentable symptom of the fear of sounding illiterate is fear of the words “bad” and “good”. Feeling badly? Then you are someone who does a poor job of feeling. If you pick up a rock and a sponge while blindfolded and can’t tell what they are, then you feel badly. If your pregnant wife asks you to feel the movements of your baby and you are convinced it’s indigestion, you feel badly. If your wife extends the sleeve of her nice cashmere sweater saying, “feel this”, and you rip it, then you feel badly. And you may also be lonely. If after tearing the blouse you say “I feel badly about that” then you are expressing to the lady that, rather than feeling bad, you are not doing a good job of feeling what you should be feeling, which is shame and humiliation.
Just make a great shot in golf? That’s something to feel good about. Finally finished puking after a 24-hour marathon session that left your bowels clean of not only all food , but also all bile and other digestive juices? Then you are starting to feel well. Just make a large donation to the Democratic Party? You are a good person, and you should feel good about that.
There is, however, at least one area in which modern English usage has a problem,and that is with the third person singular possessive pronouns, his and her. We’re missing a good, single pronoun when we don’t know whether the owner is a he or she. This has led to the adoption of “they” and “their” to refer to an individual and an individual’s posessions, respectively, when the gender of the individual is unspecified. Thus, “I am never angry with anyone unless they deserve it”, and “nobody in their right mind would say something like this”. Each, every, no one, everyone, anyone are all singular pronouns, but we lack, in English, a simple possessive form for each of these. There is no single word for “him or her”, “her or his”, or “himself or herself”. So what are we going to do with “as anyone can see for himself or herself”? That does not have the efficiency of expression which English speakers are accustomed to. So we end up with “as anyone can see for themselves” which is grating. One alternative, “as anyone can see for himself”, carries too much sexist baggage, as anyone can see for herself. Another, “as anyone can see for oneself”, sounds like crap.
English needs a new word or words to handle this situation. One way out would be to change the meanings of “he” and “him” and “his” to be gender-neutral (which was the common practice before it become politically incorrect to do so) and adopt new words for male pronouns. When I find myself in conundrums like this I can usually find a solution in Star Trek, and this case is no exception. In the classic Trek episode “Spock’s Brain” our heroes land on a planet with separate societies of beautiful women (Eymorg) and brutish men (Morg). Like many Star Trek episodes, this one was utopian in the sense that the Eymorg were running the place and had the Morg appropriately under lock and key. So, basically the opposite of most societies on Earth.
“Spock’s Brain” gives us an alternative to the English set of male pronouns: morg!. So we can replace “they” and “their” and “themselves” with “he” and “his” and “himself”, and replace “he” and “his” and “himself” with “morg” and “morgs” and “morgself”. Let’s try it out: “As anyone can see for himself [old himself or herself or, worse, themselves], a man’s place is in morgs [old his] home. There, morg [old he] can watch TV and devote morgself [old himself] to other enlightened pursuits.” Or: “Did you see that shot Tiger Woods made? Morg’s incredible!”
Thank you, Star Trek. Problem solved. Or is it? The problem with this solution is that it involves both introducing a new word into the language and a redefinition of “he” and “him” and so on. I am not such a slave to Star Trek canon to make an exception here for the non-Trekkies: let’s leave “him” alone and let “eymorg” (they’re cuter than the morg) be the new gender-neutral pronoun.
Let’s see how this works: “When playing poker, each player should be careful to keep eymorg’s cards concealed from the other players. If a player wants to call a bet with eymorg’s last remaining chips, eymorg should put all eymorg’s chips into the pot and say ‘All in’”.
This takes the place of: “When playing poker, each player should be careful to his or her cards concealed from the other players. If a player wants to call a bet with his or her last remaining chips, he or she should put all her or his chips into the pot and say ‘All in’”. Every “he or she” simply becomes “eymorg” which is one less syllable, one less letter, two less spaces, and two fewer words. It’s a winner!
It is time to make H. W. Fowler’s and Winston Churchill’s dream come true. Let the 21st century see the end of idle pedantry, and let prepositions fall wherever they naturally fall, including the ends of phrases and sentences. Let they and their become as outdated as “keen” and let the eymorg rise. And if someone asks you to “send Greg or I an e-mail the next time you talk to eymorg”, make sure your response asks him to “acknowledge receipt of this with a reply to I”.
 “Off is how you should now go f@#&” just doesn’t have the same punch.
 Like the weak old man in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
 What’s the Usage, C. Carter Colwell and James H. Knox, Reston, Virginia, 1973.
 I’m cheating a bit with this one: the “off” is acting as part of a phrasal verb here. If the idiotic rule about prepositions actually existed it would not necessarily apply to phrasal verbs.
 No, I should not.
 If you are a man, then you probably fall into this category. But most of the time it is probably not what you want to be talking about. Nor is that the topic about which you do not want to be talking.
 I’m sorry sweetheart. I feel bad about that.
 Score me another final preposition.
 I admit, this particular preposition at the end was just to rub it in.
 Sadly, more often than you might think.
 No apostrophe for morgs just as there is no apostrophe for hers or his.