For the Annals of Inter-generational Communication, the following report. Twice in the last week younger people of my acquaintance made a remarkable grammatical self-correction mid- sentence. Emily and Amanda, both around 30, in separate conversations with people of their parents’ generation, began to start a sentence with “me and my friend, (my sister, whatever)…” and amended to “my friend and I . . .”.
The switch was from what I take to be millennial-speak to what is still, according to online sources, considered “correct” English, the use of the nominative case “I” when it’s the subject of the sentence, and the traditional courtesy of putting the other person first.
Both times I remarked on the mid-flight correction (with, I’m afraid, a bit of “aha”), while being quick to emphasize that, as a totally cool old person, I certainly didn’t need them to distort their speech for my sake.
Actually, I spent years trying to educate my son, also a millennial, out of the uncouth “Me and…(whichever accomplice)…” As it turned out, he educated me about it simply by refusing to give it up. It took me a while, but I finally began to see how, for his generation at least, “my friend and I” may be officially correct, but to that gen’s ear it has an “after you Alphonse” quality about it which sounds phoney and undemocratic. (And “I and my friend”–dropping the old-fashioned courtesy while keeping the proper case–would simply sound both egotistical and stuffy. )
In “Stranger Things,” a new Netflix series, a high school girl, characterized as smart and studious, at the dinnertable with her parents starts a story with “me and my friend . . ..” The showrunners, who probably say “my friends and I” themselves, were savvy enough to know that the kid would sound more of an grammar nerd than they wanted if stigmatized with “my friends and I.” (Grammar nerd is not the right sort of nerd in these days of nerd heroism.) No doubt the girl will, when it comes to a collage application interview, know to make the switch to so-called standard English, as the English speakers of the British West Indies can turn on and off their dialect depending on whether they are speaking to a tourist.
I don’t know when the “me and my friend” locution got established, but it’s my impression that it was well after the otherwise far-out, radical, rule-smashing 1960s. Perhaps it’s an invention of the millennials, that gen said to start with those born 1984 and after.
I have a friend who disputes my admittedly anecdotal impression that “me and my friends” is culture-wide practice for a younger generation. She claims–energetically–that her millennial kids have never been inclined to use “me and my friend.” Perhaps it’s wishful hearing on her part. I hope so. Otherwise it’s a terrible thing to say about your own children.
Are millennials when they hit 30 beginning to self-wean from “me and …”? Was it an early moment of that in the maturation of Emily and Amanda that I witnessed last week, these two young women coming to their grammatical senses, leaving behind their grammatical childhood? Or were the self-corrections simply an instance of grownup awareness of what would make the oldsters around them feel more comfortable, no admission of grammatical guilt intended? Since language does change, will they still be saying “me and my friend,” when talking amongst themselves, 90 year-olds in their rocking chairs?
In any case, as much as I appreciate the grammatical democracy of “me and my friends,” my friends and I will probably never be comfortable with it coming from our own mouths, and I appreciate our prejudice for the “correct” being acknowledged by our kids.