between you and I

Several weeks ago at the gym I heard a song which begins:

There’s a thousand miles between you and I. 

Two years ago (to the day, coincidentally), I posted about the usage of the equivalent of you and I/me as subject, direct object and object of a preposition, so I wasn’t going to post just about that. (I seem to remember that the next song correctly had you and me after a verb or preposition.)

Yesterday I posted about the song Yesterday, and Batchman, who has been my number 1 commenter recently, said, among other things:

In general, using pop songs to illustrate grammar treads on risky ground. Think about all the songs with some variant of “for you and I” in them.

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Yesterday, now – grammar in pop songs

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away

Yesterday is a good word to prompt for past simple tense: Every day I ____ pizza, Yesterday I ____ pizza, Every day this week I ____ ____ pizza.

Most past simple verbs are regular and made by adding -ed to the base form (seem, seemed), but about 100 of the most frequently used and important are irregular and change in other ways (eat, ate, eaten) or not at all (put, put, put).

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay

Now is not a good time to demonstrate present simple. For action verbs, now usually uses present simple: Now I am eating pizza, not *Now I eat pizza. Compare now meaning ‘nowadays’: When I was young I didn’t eat pizza and Now I eat pizza. But looks here is a state verb, which rarely uses present simple: Now it looks as though they’re here to stay v ?Now it is looking as though they’re here to stay. Compare something which is more changeable: An hour ago the sky was clear. Now it looks/it’s looking as though it is going to rain/like it will rain/like rain. (A better prompt for present simple is ‘every day’.)

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It’s midnight, cretins

A few posts ago I mentioned a Christmas song which starts in its original language:

Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle.

Inevitably, I got thinking about cretins. There is a connection. Cretins are, quite literally, Christians.

Latin Christianus became old and middle French Chrestian, modern French Chrétien and English Christian. Along the way, children with congenital hypothyroidism were called Chrétiens, to emphasise their inherent worth despite their condition. In English, this became cretins, which word was then used to describe anyone of low intelligence or who you simply did not agree with. It is now not used medically, and hopefully less in its wider meaning.

I pronounce it as creh-tin, which is apparently the British pronunciation, compared with the American pronunciation of cree-tin, which sounds too much like Cretan to me. The original cretins weren’t Cretan; they were Christian.

I have a vague feeling that there’s an animated tv comedy (The Simpsons, The Family Guy?) in which two characters quibble about the pronunciation – one calls the other a creh-tin and is immediately taken to task for pronouncing cree-tin incorrectly – but I can’t immediately find it.

Not to be confused with the former prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, who was a Chrétien and presumably a Christian, but not a cretin. The modern French word for cretin, by the way, is crétine (f)/crétin (m).

Love’s pure light loves pure light

Six years ago, very soon after started this blog (I can’t quite believe it’s that long), I wrote about Round John Virgin and some other linguistic aspects of the Christmas hymn Silent Night.

Recently, one of the choirs I sing in was invited at short notice to record some items for a Christmas musical entertainment to be streamed into aged care facilities around Australia. (We have just begun to rehearse together again.) One of these was as the backing for a soloist singing a slightly jazzy arrangement of Silent Night. Among other things, there were several extra notes inserted into the melody, which then required extra words (or maybe the arranger decided to insert extra words, which then required extra notes). Small example: in one verse, Silent night, holy night became O silent night, and holy night. Larger example: Son of God, love’s pure light became Son of God, he loves pure light, which is not just adding a word, but changing the grammar and meaning of what follows.

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Every cloud possesses a silver lining

Writing about David Essex yesterday reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write about another song of his, “Hold me close“.

Twice, he sings:

Every cloud’s got a silver lining

But the final time, he sings:

Every cloud has a silver lining

I was going to write at length about ‘ve/’s got v have/has (note that very few people say/write have/has got in full), but I got very confused very quickly and don’t want to confuse you. I thought more about I’ve got and I have because we talk more about I than we do about every cloud. As well as I’ve got and I have, there’s also I got and I’ve gotten, as well as have as a main verb and have as the auxiliary of the perfect. I’ve got a is slightly more associated with British English, but even there I have a is by far the most common.

But I got thinking: do people say or write Every cloud’s got a silver lining or Every cloud has a silver lining? Google Ngrams shows absolutely no results for Every cloud’s got a silver lining, which means that its dataset does not include 1970s English pop songs. A general Google search shows about 1,050,000 results for “every cloud has a silver lining” (in quotation marks, for an exact match) and about 1,040 for “every cloud’s got a silver lining”, most of which are references to this song. Worryingly, Google suggests every clouds got a silver lining, for which there are 935 results, most of which are references to this song. I’m not surprised that people who create websites of song lyrics don’t how to use apostrophes, but I’m worried that Google doesn’t. 

Many proverbs circulate in slightly different forms, but this one is remarkably stable (and also Every dog has its day, which sprang to mind).

(I thought I’d written a previous post about I’ve got and I have in pop songs, but I can’t find it.)

Coming home

There are multiple songs titled “Coming home” or “Going home”. Wikipedia lists 61 songs titled “(I’m) Comin(g) home” and 31 titled “(I’m) Goin(g) home”, as well as albums, books and movies.

I mixed up two of them. The song I remembered clearly (“I’m coming home”) was written and sung by Australian duo Beeb Birtles and Graeham Goble. The name I remembered was English singer David Essex (who sang, and probably wrote, “Coming home”). Either one (and many others with the same title) illustrate an interesting point about English grammar. Usually, we go from ‘here’ to ‘there’, or come from ‘there’ to ‘here’. In each song, the singer is somewhere other than ‘home’, so would usually sing about going ‘home’; that is, from ‘here’ to ‘there’. But each sings about coming ‘there’. The Birtles and Goble song begins:

I’m coming home
So take my picture off the wall
I’ve had enough of being alone

The Essex song includes:

There’s no question in my mind that I’m coming home tonight

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Me and my true love

Towards the end of each year, each department in the company I work for prepares a presentation of some kind to be distributed electronically rather than presented live. This year’s efforts are being hampered by the fact that almost everyone has been working from home almost all of the time for almost all of the year, but a colleague is very good at parody lyrics, and he’s written a song which we are currently recording separately for another colleague to edit together.

Apparently there’s a verse, which someone is singing, then the chorus is:

We worked from our homes and we worked all alone,
We’re the team that does publication
For me and my colleagues may never meet again
On the bonny, bonny banks of the lockdown.

Linguistically, I spotted me and my colleagues. Some people would call that wrong. Certainly, my colleagues(/true love) and I is standard English, but that doesn’t fit the song, and absolutely no-one is going to sing I and my colleagues(/true love), even if it fits. Me and X is best described as a widely-used, informal, more often spoken variation in English grammar (but it’s not part of my idiolect). (Stan Carey had another angle on this recently.)

Some months ago I discovered a small lake in Scotland named Loch Doon, and joked that it would be the ideal place to spend a period of quarantine. (Not really – it’s in the middle of nowhere, and the ruined castle won’t give you much shelter.)

Let’s call the whole thing off

One song which is often quoted or alluded to when discussing pronunciation differences (and even differences of any kind) is “Let’s call the whole thing off“, by George and Ira Gershwin, first sung by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movie Shall we dance?. The relevant part starts:

You say either and I say either,
You say neither and I say neither

Most versions of the lyrics online don’t help by not indicating the pronunciation (apparently, neither did the sheet music; Wikipedia reports that Ira Gershwin told the story of one singer who sang the song with the same pronunciations throughout), so I will write:

You say ee-ther and I say eye-ther,
You say nee-ther and I say nye-ther

This also doesn’t help by not indicating who is singing, therefore making it clear who says this and who says that. In the movie, he sings this part, so I will write:

she sayshe says

The whole song can be summarised as:

She says, likes, wears …He says, likes, wears …
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Svmer iʃ icumen in

Some people decry any change to language as the first step on a slippery slope which will end with us communicating in incoherent grunts. But language has always changed, and always will. We can easily test this in English by looking at written sources across more than a thousand years. My example for this post doesn’t date that far back, merely approximately 750 years.

One of the choirs I sing in is presenting a concert based on the theme of summer. One item is the old song Sumer is icumen in, which dates from before 1264, which is when the manuscript it is preserved in was copied. It is recognisable as English, but obviously a lot has changed since then. The original words are: 

Svmer iʃ icumen in
Lhude ʃing cuccu
Groweþ ʃed and bloweþ med
and ʃpringþ þe wde nu

Sing cuccu
Awe bleteþ after lomb
lhouþ after calue cu
Bulluc ʃterteþ bucke uerteþ
murie ʃing cuccu

Cuccu cuccu
Wel ʃingeʃ þu cuccu
ne ʃwik þu nauer nu

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At least he wasn’t sinning

A colleague mentioned something which reminded me of the bizarrest typos I’ve ever seen in a book. The book Tasteless Lists by Karl Shaw would probably be bizarre enough even without the occasional typo, and this item certainly would be, but the typo lifts it into a league of its own:

One of the world’s most tasteless stage acts was performed by the American Tommy Minnock, a variety artiste who plied his trade in Trenton, New Jersey, in the 1890s. Minnock allowed himself to be literally crucified onstage: while the nails were being driven into his hands and feet, he would entertain his audience by signing “After The Ball Is Over”.

(which I always thought was After The Ball Was Over).

Is this true (assuming that he was singing and not signing)? I have read enough paragraphs like this in enough books like this that I know from other sources are not true, and very many others which are highly doubtful, to be sceptical. But this one seems to be true. While there is very little on the internet about Minnock, the New York Times has a review of Ricky Jay’s Jay’s Journal of Anomalies, which includes an account of Minnock which is broadly consistent with the one in the book. (Google Books has a later version of the same book, which rewrites the paragraph and removes the typo. Spoilsports.)

The colleague mentioned that a church choir she sang in learned basic Auslan for a service for deaf people at their church. I didn’t want to say signing in the first sentence, so as not to give away the typo.