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Flashcard: Me Tarzan, You Gaga

Though I accepted long ago that there's no grammar in rock and roll, it's always bothered me that the Doors' otherwise splendid "Touch Me" contains the lyric "Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I" (at the crescendo of the song, no less). Of course it should be "you and me." But I rationalized, as I like to think the hyper-literate Jim Morrison must have, that "me" does not rhyme with "sky." So what's Lady Gaga's excuse?

In "Bad Romance" she sings: "I want your loving/ And I want your revenge/ You and me could write a bad romance." Why? It's not like she needs something to rhyme with "me." She clearly lives to provoke, but I don't think she pulled this particular stunt on purpose; I think she just doesn't know any better (and almost surely doesn't care). And she's not alone.

If you want the down 'n' dirty nitty-gritty on why Gaga's use of "you and me" is caca, please consult Grammar Girl's typically lucid explanation, entitled "Between You and Me." The rest of you, read on.

Gaga is saying that she and the guy she's singing about could write a bad romance. If you separate her and the guy, you get:

Gaga: "I could write a bad romance." Sounds fine.

Guy: "Me could write a bad romance." Not so much. Unless the guy Gaga wants to write a bad romance with is Tarzan. Therefore it should be "you and I."

Then there's the "we/us" test. Above, I separated Gaga and her guy; below, I'll combine them — but how? In "Bad Romance," are they a "we" or an "us?" Hmm ... let's see.

"We could write a bad romance." Nothing wrong there.

"Us could write a bad romance." Definitely stinkin' up the joint. It should be "we"; thus it should be "I."

I know all this separating and combining sounds like a lot of work. Which is why I recommend writing the following on a yellow sticky and keeping it on your person at all times:

You + I = we.

You + me = us.

After a while, you'll just know (or at least be able to do the math in your head).

I think this "I/me" business is a sensitive subject for some, more often than not people with low grammar self-esteem. They tend to use "I" or "we" when "me" or "us" is what's required because they feel "I" is just a more correct-sounding word than "me." There's something about "I" that suggests a place setting with multiple forks more than "me" does. These folks also lean toward "myself" when "me" is actually proper and "individual" when "person" would do just as well (better, in fact). It's all part of a misguided linguistic gambit I like to call Trying to Sound Smart. There's a tendency to go too far, to bend over backwards, and end up sounding, well, NOT smart. To these people I say, "Stop trying to sound smart — you are smart."

But back to Lady Gaga and the Lizard King and all the other bad grammar role models we've been listening to for decades. Are your children safe? Probably. I've been hearing the following all my life and I generally manage to keep the "I/me" thing sorted out.

  • My buddies and me are gettin' real well known.
  • I'd like for you and I to go romancing.
  • You and me were meant to be for each other.
Enter Lady Gaga's new single, "You and I," which goes:

"There's something, something about this place/ Something about lonely nights and my lipstick on your face/ Something something about my cool Nebraska guy/ Yeah something about/ Baby you and I"

You know how I know "you and I" is wrong? Because you + I = we, i.e. "something about ... we." I suspect the song will still be a monster hit.

Any pop numbers make your inner-grammarian cringe? Rock our world.

Special thanks to Mara Schwartz, one of EE's favorite people, for suggesting we address this thorny issue.

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Julia Rubiner is a partner in Editorial Emergency, a Los Angeles copy shop specializing in content manufacturing and brand communications for entertainment, lifestyle and nonprofit concerns. She is also a personal-branding consultant, writing resumes, LinkedIn summaries and executive bios, among other tools, for people in creative fields who want to advance their careers. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, she was an editor of reference publications. Rubiner wears the label "word nerd" as a badge of honor. Click here to read more articles by Julia Rubiner.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday September 8th 2010, 6:47 AM
Comment by: Robert V. (New York, NY)
Great post. I'm going to use it in my classroom next week when I begin "reboot" my students (sophomores at an all girls high school in the Bronx) on the eight parts of speech.


Robert Vellani, PhD
Wednesday September 8th 2010, 8:50 AM
Comment by: bluefade (Chagrin Falls, OH)
Great article. The suggestion by Mara Schwartz was a good one. I wish there was more awareness by not only young people but people of all ages on this issue.

Using incorrect grammer for the sake of art is one thing but in daily speech it is quite another. I find myself using your little tests before I speak, to make sure I'm not saying something incorrectly. Once in a while though, the wrong word will slip through and I find myself saying the test outloud, in front of the person I'm speaking with. I'm not embarrassed because I believe we all make those mistakes from time to time and they'll hear the correct word when I do.

Post more. We could all use it!
Wednesday September 8th 2010, 12:07 PM
Comment by: christiane P. (paris Afghanistan)
I don't sing romance of Lady Gaga. My children are adult now and their children are so younger for to be the admiration of lady Gaga. So I heard and saw her on tv i am sorry i really don't like .
When you study a new language and you are confronted with bad text, what a pity!!!
I do not say "you and me" but "you and I". Lady Gaga makes slips to do purpose.She likes to be noticed.
Sure I don't learn English with her texts.
Wednesday September 8th 2010, 6:18 PM
Comment by: Brak87 (Dallas, TX)
What a breath of fresh air! There ARE still people in the world who know how to speak and write correctly. I work as a copywriter for a big retail corporation and I see the same kind of mistakes all the time. I'm not exactly very high on the totem pole, so when I point out mistakes, I am told that it has already been approved. I'm starting to wonder why I had to take an AP style test to get this job. The latest mistake that is driving me crazy, "Add an angel to your list. Make their dreams come true." I have pointed out this very obvious mistake and the party line remains the same; it has already been approved. This will be printed and distributed to hundreds of thousands, who will most likely not even realize the mistake. Very upsetting.

And yes, Lady Gaga's "grammar" makes me want to cut off my ears. Great post.

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