Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

Dear Mr. Lederer: I am an old nut (nearly 80!) about limericks. You probably remember this one:

I went to the Duchess for tea.
It was just as I feared it would be.
Her rumblings abdominal
Were simply phenomenal,
And everyone thought it was me.

Having had a grandmother who was a very strict grammarian, I have been bothered by the structure of the last line. So I have made up a new version:

I went to the Duchess for pie.
While there, I thought I would die.
Her rumblings abdominal
Were simply phenomenal,
And everyone thought it was I.

Isn’t that better?
– Ruth K. Gordon

The rivalry between “It is me” and “It is I” has provided a long-running debate among word mavens. Supporters of “It is I” contend that forms of the verb to be, such as is and was, should unfailingly be followed by pronouns cast in the nominative case, I in this instance. Those in the corner of “It is me” counter with the argument that pronoun case has become so weakened that the force of word order now overrides the force of case.

The “It’s me” gang also tells the joke about the woman who one day appears at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter asks, “Who goes there?”

“It is I,” announces the woman.

“Excellent!” exults St. Peter. “You must be an English teacher.”

We shout, “Two, four, six, eight, who (not whom) do we appreciate?” because the who occurs in the subject part of the sentence, where the nominative case is most prevalent. By the same logic, the placement of a pronoun in the object part of the sentence has caused “It is me” and “It is us” to become the preference of many educated speakers.

Walt Kelly’s immortal Pogo once proclaimed, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Those who would prefer “We have met the enemy and he is we!” are the same tin-eared folks who wish that Sammy Davis Jr., had sung “I Gotta Be I” and that a certain chain of stores would change its name to Toys R We.

The primary purpose of language is communication. Robert Pooley has justly defined good grammar as “that language which creates the least discomfort among the largest number of participants.” If you are trying to communicate with a purist who considers “It’s me” an atrocity, use “It is I.”

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This Tuesday at 7 p.m., I’ll be joining the Pacific Coast Chorale in a benefit Holiday Extravaganza at the Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway. For information and tickets, click on Ticketmaster.com or call (866) 448-7849.

To celebrate this occasion, here’s a low-key quiz that will be music to your ears. I’ve designed this game to help you hear how many musical words and phrases make our English language more melodious. Using the terms in the list below, complete each common expression with a musical term.

band                 fiddle          opera
bandwagon     harmony    overture
beat                  harp             piper
chime               horn             song
chorus              jazz              sung
dance               key                tune
drum                music           whistling

1. to hop on the _____
2. in _____ with the times
3. a soap _____
4. an un_____ hero
5. Don’t _____ on the subject.
6. You’re just _____ Dixie.
7. a _____ of boos
8. to pay the _____
9. all that _____
10. laughing to beat the _____
11. all _____ed up
12. Don’t give me a _____ and _____.
13. to co-exist in perfect _____
14. to _____ in on the discussion
15. to make an _____ to the opposition
16. to _____ up business
17. fit as a ____
18. to blow your own _____
19. to face the _____
20. an up_____ attitude

 

Answers

1. bandwagon
2. tune
3. opera
4. sung
5. harp
6. whistling
7. chorus
8. piper
9. jazz
10. band
11. jazz or key
12. song / dance
13. harmony
14. chime or horn
15. overture
16. drum
17. fiddle
18. horn
19. music
20. beat