"We seen that deer run through the yard."
"Me and my brother will help you with that."
"If my husband had went to Home Depot instead..." (spoken by an English teacher!)
"Where you at?" (not even "Where're you at?")
"We was workin' on it all day."
"People are like dead, and it was like scary, and I'm like no way..." (a recent Colorado shootings interview)
Answering the phone: "Yeah, this is him. 'Sup?"
These are all real. These are all horrible. These are just a few really horrible English grammar or usage errors that have attacked my linguistic sensibilities recently, and I have had it! This isn't the way English was used when I was growing up, and it certainly wasn't permitted when I spent 30+ years teaching English or Language Arts.
No, I didn't have one of those foreign-born, we-must-learn-to-speak-good-English-to-succeed-in-this-country childhoods. It was a very normal, we-speak-correctly-in-this-family, plain old family that had been here for many generations. Dad, mother, sister, brother -- all good in English. In all humility, though, I think I was the best in the family.
It was the nuns. Now you may have all your cry-baby, the-nuns-were-so-mean repressed memories, but the nuns -- specifically the Humility of Mary (Blue Nuns) Sisters of Villa Maria, PA -- were the best teachers I could have had in grades 1-8, especially in English. From first grade on, we had massive English lessons every day and English homework almost every night. I learned -- I really had no choice. But I learned proper English, correct usage, good syntax. By the time I was in eighth grade, I was pretty sure that I knew more - tons more! - about the English language and its correct usage than my public school contemporaries.
I switched to public school for high school, and I was lucky enough - due to my English skills - to be placed in an "Honors/Advanced Placement" pilot program in English that had come to that school. I liked it and did well. I had several male English teachers along the way, and I decided that I would follow the same path they had pursued.
Once I became an English teacher I discovered that not all of my students spoke or wrote as well as I thought they would/should. I became the English monster, the grammar nazi, and -- so-named by my high school students -- the grammar god. You can bet, though, that my students would never have written or said any of the examples at the beginning of this piece. They would have paid a horrible price if they had. So why am I hearing and seeing it now?
I truly believe the problem began when many school systems stopped the teaching of grammar and usage in the upper grades as a discrete (don't even question my spelling there) subject. No one conjugated verbs any more, so "we was" popped up. No one learned the principal parts of verbs (necessary for learning conjugation!), so "we seen" and "he had went" became acceptable. No one learned the difference between nominative and objective case pronouns, so "me and my brother" popped up. (Not to mention the politeness of never mentioning yourself first.) No one learned about what follows a linking verb, so "this is him" popped up. No one learned the difference between like and as, because none of this was being taught. The "theory" was that the students would learn all these things through writing, but I could never understand how they would know what I was marking on their writing (agr., pron/antecedent agr., tense, awk., shift, case, etc. etc. etc.) if they had never learned the basics to begin with. I could go on and on.
I still do my share of editing, correcting and judging. I am often bewildered by what I read or hear from seemingly intelligent people. All those example at the beginning are from people I know, sometimes socialize with, and younger than I. (One is from the child of a friend and one was taken from the news.) What do I do? Cringe and bite my tongue, I guess. I can't correct them -- that would be rude.
By the way: I once complimented Giant Eagle for its grammatically perfect Express Lane sign: "12 Items or Fewer." The folks there thought I was putting them on and that the sign should read "12 Items or Less."
And don't even get me started about e-mail and texting, the "rules-free lower case flow that is little more than [poor] conversation."