Broken Bones and Fractured Grammar

What a strange language English is.  Today’s New York Times features an article about an injury incurred by Yankee’s third baseman Alex Rodriguez:

Rodriguez broke a bone in his left hand when he was hit by a 88-mile-per-hour pitch in the eighth inning of a loss in Seattle on Tuesday night.

The Times didn’t get it wrong.  The bone was broken, but it was the pitcher who broke it, not the owner of bone in question.  For some reason, when a player gets beaned by an fastball, we say the player “broke a bone,” when in fact he did no such thing.  That’s just the way the idiom works. Pity the non-native speaker who is trying to master the English language.

Idioms are one thing; ignorance of grammatical rules is another.  As a former high school English teacher and the son of a college English professor, I understand that language changes over time.  The rules of grammar I was taught by the formidable Miss Whitten, the unquestioned authority in  my12th-grade English class, are evolving.

Frankly, I’ll never get used to the plural pronoun in reference to the singular subject, as in “Someone left their dish on the table,” but I understand how it avoids the use of the generic masculine.  Miss Whitten, however, must be turning in her grave.

Something up with which I will not put (Sorry, Winston Churchill) is this dreadful habit of using the nominative case for the first person pronoun when it is joined to another noun or pronoun by “and,” as in “She gave the book to Jim and I,or “Between you and I, this sentence stinks.”

People never say, “She gave to book to I,” using the nominative case.  They say, rightly, “She gave to book to me,” using the objective case.  Why, then, does adding an additional object throw people off?  I just don’t get it.  Adding more objects to the verb or the preposition doesn’t change the case.  This isn’t an example of evolving usage.  It’s an example of lazy language.

I’m not the grammar police.  I just hate to see the language mistreated.

About Brant Copeland

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, grew up in San Antonio and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
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One Response to Broken Bones and Fractured Grammar

  1. Casey says:

    How about when people say “it wasn’t broken, just a fracture”. They are the exact same thing. No matter how small or how large, any crack in the bone is a fracture or break! I have a small medical background by the way, not this has nothing to do with grammar, just a peeve!

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