Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's hard for I -- what about you?

Thanks to the diligence of my friend Betsy, I finally got around to seeing this year’s (pallid, underwritten) movie version of “Jane Eyre.” But though I wish Jane had been allotted more words, at least the meager script minimized the chance of language glitches. As it was, we were shocked to hear Jane, in the midst of a passionate speech, say to Rochester:
If God had blessed me with beauty and wealth, I could make it as hard for you to leave me as it is for I to leave you.
For I to leave you? Sure, we moderns often use object pronouns in compound nominatives (“Me and the dog are going out”) and vice versa (“an invitation for Sally and I”). But “as hard for I to leave” is much less common. Not unheard of -- Arnold Zwicky gave an example in an August post, and said there were more out there,  “too many to dismiss as nothing but inadvertent errors" -- but rare enough that I've never heard a complaint about it.

And Jane’s movie speech generally hews closely to the book, where she says 
if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.
So someone (Moira Buffini is the scriptwriter of record) decided to “improve” Bronte’s dialogue, and nobody involved in the production ever said “Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right.” O tempora, o mores, o BBC!

You may have noticed another word change there: Bronte’s “gifted me” becomes “blessed me” in the script, no doubt in deference to today's distaste for gift as a verb. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage points out that gift "make a present of" dates to the 17th century, though the context was generally institutional, as in "gifted to the Church of Rome."

As early as 1864, though, there were rumblings about it. In “The Queen’s English,” Henry Alford complained that adjectival gifted was “at present very much in vogue. Every man whose parts are to be praised, is a gifted author, speaker or preacher.” In 1909, Ambrose Bierce OK'd gifted but suggested that the verb itself was obsolete: Denouncing talented (vs. gifted), he noted, “These are both past participles, but there was once the verb to gift, whereas there was never the verb 'to talent.' If Nature did not talent a person the person is not talented."

But in the mid-20th century to gift spread to “a more mundane realm,” as Bryan Garner puts it, becoming a mere synonym for give: “He gifted her with a diamond bracelet.” This aroused the opposition, and the usage is still resisted as pretentious; Garner rates its acceptance at only stage 2 of a possible 5. So this edit of Bronte seems to be a reasonable effort to avoid raising viewers’ eyebrows. Unfortunately, changing “for me to leave” to “for I” is enough, all by itself, to raise eyebrows as high as they go -- for some of us, anyway.


John Cowan said...

Prescriptivists are always whining about to gift, as if it meant no more than to give, but it does not; it means to give as a gift. I may give you bread in exchange for your money, but I am not thereby gifting you.

T. Roger Thomas said...

Poor Charlotte, no one would do this to a work written by Shakespeare.

The Ridger, FCD said...

It's not a "mere synonym" for "give", though. It means "make a present to", whereas "give" merely means "transfer".

Kay L. Davies said...

Nobody stops to think any more. When I was learning English grammar, I was told to stop and think about a simpler sentence with the same usage. I've heard people say: "He gave it to Jim and I" without stopping to think: "He gave it to I" which would have revealed the mistake in an instant.
Of course, the worst misusage these days is "myself" as in: "He gave it to Jim and myself" which has become common usage for many people, including TV and radio broadcasters.
Anyone who presumes to correct Jane Austen ought to be thrown from the train along with her own grammar, and all her other relations.

Alison said...

There is a school of thought out there,(headed, I have to say, by my late Aunt), which believes that it is posh to say 'I' and common to say 'me'. I tried to explain subject and object to her but she knew best.

Richard Hershberger said...

The Bierce commentary is a good illustration of how incomplete grammar knowledge leads to bad usage advice. This is an old problem. Richard Grant White didn't understand prepositional verbs and so concluded that "reliable" is an impossible word. More recently, any number of commentators didn't understand sentence adverbs, and so concluded that "Hopefully,..." is an impossible construction. In Bierce's case, he didn't understand the uses of the suffix '-ed' and so concluded that "talented" is an impossible word.

The problem with modern usage commentators is that even those who think themselves educated about English grammar are almost invariably actually educated about English grammar as it was understood c. 1890, when "traditional grammar" ossified.

Good tests for this include asking one to define a 'determiner' or to discuss the semantic and syntactic peculiarities of phrasal verbs. If the response is a blank stare, you are dealing with someone whose knowledge is well over a century out of date. Discussing usage with such a person is like discussing integrated circuits with someone who knows nothing of 20th century physics.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of fastidiousness, but at least I can respect the time and effort that go into it. I have no patience for LAZY fastidiousness, though, because the blanket application of grossly oversimplified rules results in ugly things like "for I" and "as I."

I ofent feel when I'm watching "reality" television that contestants/particpants are given a crash elocution course which consists of two lessons:

1. Say, "That being said..." as often as possible. (After all, as long as it's not the first sentence out of your mouth, it's always accurate); and

2. The correct way to pronounce "me" is "eye"

Luckily, the Honors version of this course doesn't get taught much these days. You can always tell those graduates, because they use "whom" so reflexively that they misquote owls and Dr. Seuss titles.

Faldone said...

There's a nice irony here when the very people who peeve about losing valuable distinctions as in disinterested/uninterested or infer/imply get all peevy when a valuable distinction is gained as in gift/give.

Ø said...

Kay: Please don't throw me under the barouche-landau for this, but how would you feel about the phrase "A heroine whom no-one but myself will much like"? I think that many people, perhaps including you, would prefer "no-one but me". I ask because Austen is said to have written these words to someone in a letter (referring to her character Elizabeth Bennet).

Ø said...

Or rather her character Emma Woodhouse.

Kay L. Davies said...

To Ø re Austen's letter about one of her characters, Emma or Elizabeth or whomever:
As you did not quote the entire sentence, it is difficult for me to judge. I did try to Google this sentence, but Google could find no other reference than yours. Therefore, I must guess Miss Austen was saying something to the effect of "I created a heroine whom no one but myself will much like."
I definitely would NOT prefer to say "me will"!
I also did not say the word "myself" should never be used. When the subject of the sentence is "I" then of course "myself" (which refers back to the subject of the sentence, who is talking about a heroine she has created or is creating) is perfectly correct.
Under the barouche-landau for you, Ø.

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

Jan said...

Kay, the quote is "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." Depending on your feelings about "but" as preposition/conjunction, you might say "whom no-one but me will much like" or "whom no one but I will much like" or even "whom no-one but I myself will much like." But a typical anti-"myself" prescriptivist would not OK "myself" in Austen's sentence. ("I gave myself a heroine whom ..." would be OK, or "a heroine I myself won't like." But not Austen's use.) Please rescue Ø from under that barouche-landau!

Ø said...

Can someone remind me how we got to Jane Austen? It's not just that Kay thought of her because she has the same first name as Jane Eyre, right?

Jan said...

Entirely possible, Ø, but you picked it up and ran with it!

Ø said...

There wasn't a comment, since deleted, mentioning Austen? (You understand, I'm not especially looking for more conflict, just making conversation. Your blog deserve more and better comments. At the moment I can give you more but not better.)

That reminds me to ask, presumptuously: Are you sure that you want to moderate comments? The resulting lag time is sort of a drag.

Jan said...

No, Ø, no comments have been deleted. What you see is what you get. (I think blogspot marks all deletes.)
And yes, moderating time is a drag. I suppose I should stop and see what happens? But I hardly deserve more comments at the current rate of posting! (Thanks.)

Jan said...

No, Ø, no comments have been deleted. What you see is what you get. (I think blogspot marks all deletes.)
And yes, moderating time is a drag. I suppose I should stop and see what happens? But I hardly deserve more comments at the current rate of posting! (Thanks.)