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July 21, 2007

Harry and Me

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Yes, I bought it. The latest Harry Potter book.

In fact, I also bought the previous book while at Barnes & Noble.

But not at midnight, unlike what most of the rest of the world did. And not before I read a synopsis of Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter books get "darker" volume by volume, and I'm not about to blow twentysomething dollars plus 20 hours of my time on a downer. Not me. No way. I've been a peek-at-the-ending sorta guy from way back.

I was thinking about buying the whole Potter series because, although I'd read the first five, it can be hard to remember minor characters and plot elements from years before. So it might be a good thing to just start from scratch and plow through the whole thing, no? Then I went to the Internet and discovered this source containing information about all the characters in the series. It looks like it'll be useful, but I might end up buying the first five anyway.

I first encountered Harry Potter at Hatchards bookstore at 187 Piccadilly in London back in 1998. Near the entrance was a large stack of books with this cover:

First British edition of the Harry Potter series

Yep, it sure looked like a kids book. But why were there so many of the darned things at Hatchards? This was before the Harry Potter craze had jumped the Atlantic, so I was clueless.

As I've grown older I find myself reading less and less fiction. What I do read tends to be escapist stuff -- most usually science fiction featuring well-imagined societal and physical settings along with a healthy dose of blood 'n' guts smeared on with savoir-faire, not a trowel.

I'm not a fantasy reader aside from Harry Potter. I like Potter because of the world J.K. Rowling created for him. And it seems I'm not alone.



UPDATE: Yes I know the title of this post ain't grammatical. I riffed on the title of the Michael Moore hatchet-job movie "Roger and Me" just for the hell of it.

posted by Donald at July 21, 2007


Donald, say it ain't so!!!!! And I thought you were a Tolkien kind of guy. (Anguish. Gnashing of teeth. Inner sadness.)

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on July 21, 2007 6:55 PM

Charlton -- Alas. And alack as well. I read Lord of the Rings back in the late 60s or early 70s and had to force my way through, all the while seeking excuses to quit. After the first movie came out I tried again, but gave up after 150 pages or so: same reaction as before. I'm just not a Tolkien guy. I offer my profoundest apologies.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on July 21, 2007 7:23 PM

There's nothing inherently ungrammatical about the phrase "Harry and me", except that it's not a complete sentence. One uses "Harry and me" when the phrase is the object of a verb in a sentence, and "Harry and I," when the phrase is the subject of the verb in a sentence: i.e. "When we [Harry and I] were out walking last night, a terrorist bomb went off 30 yards away from us [Harry and me]."

Posted by: alias clio on July 21, 2007 8:26 PM

I know it is now "cool" to despise Harry Potter. I am not a Potter fan, but my kids are rabid ones. I have heard all the books on tape as background ambience. They are pretty good books. The phenomenon is pretty amazing in itself. Why Potter? Why the uproar? I don't know. But it is not a bad thing all in all.

Posted by: Lexington Green on July 21, 2007 10:46 PM

Please, just for me, read Richard Adams' Watership Down if you're going to claim the Potter series as readings. It's a classic, it's fantasy, it's delightful, and it's something I think you'd enjoy without getting lost in a complicated plot such as with Rings.

Posted by: susan on July 22, 2007 5:39 AM

God bless "alias cleo." People who say, "John took Sue and I to dinner" drive me nuts. Utter barbarians.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on July 22, 2007 12:52 PM


Yes; that is called "hypercorrection", and, as (presumably) one of the people whose silly standards the "barbarians" are trying and failing to satisfy, you're actually part of the problem.

In natural English, "I" has resembled French "je" for a long, long time, i.e. a simple grammatical subject that does not survive such structures as conjunction or copula verbs. Thanks to the prescriptivists creation of a shibboleth (based upon the silly notion that "logically" English should in this one respect be like German rather than French), the "I"/"me" distinction within a conjunction is in the process of becoming a formality distinction.

And, well, that's just the kind of shit that always happens. Anyway...

I finished the book last night, and today I'm once again pondering the strangeness of this author and her series. I'm going to wait a week or so, partly for spoiler-avoidance but mostly to better collect my thoughts, but then I will have much to write about what general issues she has and hasn't addressed. (Hint: One of my big issues is with houses and personality.)

Posted by: J. Goard on July 23, 2007 3:55 PM

That's fancy theory but it doesn't fly. People get it right when the object is singular. "John took me to dinner." If your theory has wings, we'd all be saying "John took I to dinner." This I-and-me confusion is the result of rotten instruction in English and this calamity makes our native language less clear. The object of language is to communicate, not confuse.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on July 23, 2007 10:04 PM

Yeah, that theory sounds really implausible because English is in fact a Germanic language, not a Romance one, and I is related to German Ich.

Posted by: BP on July 24, 2007 9:53 AM

Actually, the reader doesn't have enough info to know whether your title is grammatical or not. If the unstated thought is "A few words about Harry and me," then it is correct.

Posted by: beloml on July 24, 2007 11:29 AM

Congrats, old bean. At least you didn't write "Harry and myself".

Posted by: dearieme on July 24, 2007 12:03 PM


The fact that people don't make any old "mistake" with "I" and "me" seems to support my contention. It is specifically in a conjunction that the hypercorrection has taken place, and is starting to be associated with formality. And it seems to be specifically with "I": people don't say "between you and they", to my awareness. So clearly it is not simply a confusion about subject and object that's going on.

As for communication versus confusion: well, isn't that just the same old thing prescriptivists always say, when thinking about a current change? Do you bemoan the loss of the "here"/"hither" distinction? Are we all confused now because we use the same form for subject and object in the second person pronoun? Or that we don't distinguish number in the second person (unless we say "y'all", "you guys", or "youse")? Or that we use the modal "must" for both obligation and prediction?


The occupation by French speakers in the 11th century, which marks the boundary between Old English and Middle English, has clearly left its mark or more than vocabulary. For example, English word order is much more like French than German, with freer position of modifiers and no verb-final business. Even our adjective phrases want to come after the noun, once they get complex enough, unlike German:

ein mit vielen Blumen verziertes Zimmer
a room decorated with many flowers

Also, English and French, but not German, have regular adjective/adverb distinctions.

Posted by: J. Goard on July 24, 2007 4:05 PM

Well, J. Goard, I agree with you that the mistake is a natural one, but I disagree that it ought to be ignored (if that's what you're saying; I'm not sure).

Languages are not fixed in stone, of course (unless they're dead, and even then, they can change, as Latin did), but if no one attempts to hold them to certain standards, we soon lose the ability to understand one another, and begin to speak in patois that are incomprehensible outside our social circles and age groups.

In this case, I was only pointing out that no correction was necessary.

The error that bothers me most is the use of "if I would have" to introduce past hypotheticals: "If I would have known she was coming, I would have gone to your party." Ugh. That one does sound barbaric to me, and it's everywhere today. It should, of course, be "If had known, I would have..." etc.

Posted by: alias clio on July 24, 2007 6:10 PM

I bought the Harry Potter book Sunday and read it in two days. I loved it! It was a fitting conclusion to the book series.

Shame on you for reading the ending, but not everything happens (or dies) at the end.

Posted by: elp on July 24, 2007 9:08 PM

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