Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nominative and accusative. Damn me, Ben Aaronovitch

Jay and I are currently competing in the "Who can read through Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series the fastest" competition. It's neck and neck, with me edging ahead by simple virtue of actually being able to find the books in my house.

I was brought up sharply in book three, though, by this:
"The school she was talking about was the local comprehensive, Acland Burghley, where countless generations of the Peckwater Estate had been educated, including me and Abigail. Or, as Nightingale insists it should be, Abigail and I."
Now, Mr Nightingale, and possibly Mr Aaronovitch as well, have it wrong. The use of I or me depends on whether the first person is in the nominative or accusative case. If the person is the subject of the sentence, it's "I": I went for a walk. If the person is the object, then it's "me": the letter was sent to me. The confusion usually comes when there's more than one person involved: Abigail and I? Abigail and me?

There's a simple way to solve it: does it work without Abigail? Which is correct:
The school she was talking about was the local comprehensive, Acland Burghley, where countless generations of the Peckwater Estate had been educated, including me.
The school she was talking about was the local comprehensive, Acland Burghley, where countless generations of the Peckwater Estate had been educated, including I.
Easy, isn't it? So easy that, once again, I have to ask why the editor who is paid to check the book for legibility hasn't picked up on it. I'll partially excuse Mr A for being too caught up in transferring the book from his head to the keyboard, but the fact he's chosen to highlight it by an incorrect example is either a total howler or a smug dig at modern usage where people will often make a correction to "Abigail and I" even when it's wrong. I'd like to be generous and allow the latter, but as he's made the same mistake at least twice more in the book so far (I started this post when I was on page 10, I'm now on page 156), I fear the worst.

And whilst I'm on the subject, try out this sentence from the book:
"Dining clubs being what posh undergraduates did in the fifties and sixties when they weren't having doomed love affairs, spying for the Russians or inventing modern satire."
It lacks one of the key criteria that makes a sentence a sentence: a verb. If it were written:
Dining clubs are what posh undergraduates did in the fifties and sixties when they weren't having doomed love affairs, spying for the Russians or inventing modern satire.
then all would be well. But using "being", which I believe is a participle (this is taxing my grammar recollection of lessons thirty years ago) makes this a participle clause that should have been part of the preceding sentence that, you have probably gathered, talked about dining clubs. This really bugs me as a disease in modern writing: I'm currently reviewing a technical document where the author has done it repeatedly.

Mr A, sack your editor. I'm loving your books, and I hate being stopped short by a piece of bad grammar.

Captain's Log, supplemental. Page 242 makes it clear that actually Mr A doesn't care that he's getting it wrong. To which my only response is "shame on you". As I've written previously, sloppy writing is unfair on people learning to read and who may be struggling to read anyway; and there comes a point where a book is so hard to read through the grammatical errors that I'll give up on it. Who wins then? Me did this, me did that. It's very wearing. And the really annoying thing is that if Mr A hadn't drawn my attention to it with the quote that I started with, I might not actually have noticed....


7 comments:

  1. bwahaha... I love this! Other people's bad writing makes me feel superior. Now if I could just get my arse in gear, I'm guaranteed a place in publishing.

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  2. I would love a copy of that card. What fun. When I went to school we never even heard the word accusative. What happened at the distant end of the sentence fell into the predicate.

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  3. Not having read the book in question, I have to ask two things:

    1) Who/what is Nightingale? If it's a pretentious know-it-all who isn't as smart as he/she thinks, then it's definitely snark.

    2) What's on p. 242 that proves to you that Aaronovitch "doesn't care"?

    In advance of answers, I have to say a few things. First, finding quibbly little details such as the ones you've pointed out is not the editor's job. That's the copyeditor's job. Second, even the best copyeditors cannot *guarantee* absolute perfection. Sometimes, it could be something as prosaic as sneezing, then coming back to the wrong sentence on the screen. Mistakes do happen. So unless we're going to demand absolute, 100% perfection from everyone in every job everywhere, let's not talk about sacking someone for one mistake (or, maybe, two), okay? :)

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  4. 1. Nah, Nightingale is a good guy, and educated.

    2. He has a "look, I can do grammar!" skit

    It's not a one-off, it's endemic through the book.

    And if course, you're quite right. The Editor needs a formal warning, performance management, retraining, objective setting, and a further disciplinary hearing followed by appeal in the case of no improvement; and then s/he can be sacked. Or Deputy Heads can roll, and we'll dump the copy editor instead.

    ReplyDelete
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