Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Stupid Me

Posted by Neal on January 4, 2005

Here’s something from a Carolyn Hax column that appeared in October 2002:

I gave brief explanation of an old bad, evil boyfriend who blindsided my by dumping me after two years and then showed up the next morning… and begged me to take him back and stupid me did, and it still ended badly….

“Stupid me did”? Ewww. But on the other hand, *Stupid I did is even worse. Looks like there was a conflict between (1) having the nominative I for a subject and (2) having accusative me in order to be able to modify it with stupid. In a case like this, I think most speakers would bypass the issue and say something like, “Stupidly, I did,” or “Like a fool, I did.” But this speaker boldly faced the challenge, made her choice, and chose in favor of constraint (2).

If I’d had a blog when this column came out, I’d have written about it, but instead the clipping has been stashed in a folder with other linguistically interesting newspaper clippings for two years. What inspired me to bring it out now? This post by Arnold Zwicky at Language Log. It’s an interesting analysis of the following quotation from author Seth Kanter:

People are used to these stories of Alaska that are romantic and beautiful, and flowing wilderness, and here comes me with, y’know, an assault rifle and a jug of R&R.

Zwicky’s analysis is well written and fun to read, and as an aside, he applies it to other cases of accusative subjects and third-person verb morphology in English:

[O]nce we have accusative subjects, the third-person singular verb form comes in here comes me is just what we’d expect. English verbs in finite clauses agree with nominative subjects, but default to third-person singular otherwise; this sort of defaulting is very well known in other languages, and can be seen elsewhere in English (either it’s Poor me is going to suffer for this or you can’t say it at all; but certainly *Poor me am going to suffer for this is just out, as, for that matter, is *Poor I am going to suffer for this).

The only question left is why *Poor I is no good in the first place. It just isn’t, I guess.

2 Responses to “Stupid Me”

  1. […] me has come up before in this blog, in another newspaper column from another woman berating herself for poor judgment […]

  2. The Ridger said

    I know this is a very old post, but I personally think “most speakers” would say “stupid me did” and not think twice, rather than “stupidly, I did”. I know I would.

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