Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Saying, "Me and My" Says About You


Me and my friend went to the movies last night.
If you read that sentence and paused, you must know something about English grammar. That being that the sentence should read: my friend and I went to the movies last night.
Changing the order of the words makes the sentence sound better (doesn’t it?), but aside from its contribution to a better aesthetic quality, is the order of the words important?
Though grammatically incorrect, ‘me and my _______’ has become a commonly used—or, I should say, misused—expression. Though it sounds awkward, on a fundamental level the misused expression communicates the exact same simple meaning of the grammatically proper one: that the speaker and his—friend, lover, sibling, etc.—are part of a shared experience. But if examined deeper, the placing of ‘me’ before others communicates something more complex: that the speaker is framing himself as the most important subject in the shared experience.
To understand how this works, consider basic sentence structure. A complete sentence has a subject and predicate. The subject is who or what the sentence is about and the predicate is a verb that expresses the subject’s action or state of being. A sentence may also have a compound subject, meaning that the sentence is about more than one person or thing. A sentence like ‘my friend and I went to the movies’ is an example of a sentence with a compound subject because the sentence is about my friend and I.
By saying ‘my friend and I went to the movies,’ I am literally putting my friend first by declaring her as the first subject in the sentence and relating her experience ahead of my own. And by relating her experience before mine, I am also figuratively communicating a level of respect and importance attributed to my friend.
If I rearrange the same sentence to say that ‘me and my friend went to the movies,’ it still has the exact same compound subject: me (a variation on the I previously used) and my friend. However, by switching the order of the two subjects, I’ve put me first, thereby signaling both literally and figuratively that me (—I—) is (—am—) the more (—most—) important subject in the sentence.
By placing me first, I am communicating that I value myself and my experience more than I value the person(s) who shared the experience with me. The message is subtle and most likely unintentional. The speaker probably doesn’t realize he’s even doing it. But he is, and the message is there.

The English language is complex and people are bound to make grammatical mistakes from time to time. I’ve even known professional English teachers and writers who’ve made the occasional error.

But ‘me and my ______’ is a mistake so pervasive in our vernacular that it deserves special attention. Mistakes happen, but we should be careful and conscious to say what we really mean. If we’re not, the consequences of failing to attribute respect to others in the way we speak could be diminished respect for ourselves. After all, my friend is probably telling others about seeing a movie with me too.

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