Stupid Me Again
Posted by Neal on October 10, 2008
In Jeffrey Seglin’s “The Right Thing” ethics column/blog post from a couple of months back, a reader had written in about her poor judgment regarding an ex-boyfriend:
Stupid me made his house payments, paid the bills, supported his drinking habit, bought new tires for his truck.
Stupid me has come up before in this blog, in another newspaper column from another woman berating herself for poor judgment regarding boyfriends. In fact, this seems to be a pattern: I looked for “stupid me” in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, and found only one attestation with me used as the subject:
First you wanted to graduate from college. That was fine. No problem. I thought that was appropriate. Then you thought you should just get through the first two years of medical school. Even that was okay with me since I could get most of my Ph.D. coursework out of the way. But then you thought it best to put things off until you got yourself all the way through medical school. Are you detecting a pattern here or is it just me? Then the issue became getting the first year of residency behind you. Stupid me even accepted that, but now it’s the whole residency business. What about the fellowship deal you talked about last month? And then after that you might even think it best to wait while you set up your practice.
(Robin Cook, Shock, 2001)
There were also some attestations in which Stupid me was used as an appositive to the subject, along the lines of: Stupid me, I thought…. But apparently, to make a very hasty generalization, if someone uses “Stupid me” directly as the subject of a verb, it’ll be a woman berating herself for her naivete regarding men.
However, that wasn’t the main thing I wanted to talk about. Here’s where I was originally going: One of the rules that traditional grammar books are pretty good at teaching is to use the nominative form of a personal pronoun (I, he, she, we, they, and trivially, the nominative forms that look just like the accusatives: you, it) when it’s being used as the subject of a sentence. But rarely do they say what to do when you want to do anything more elaborate to that subject. About the most I’ve seen them do is to talk about coordinated pronouns, such as he and she, and give the rule about using whatever forms you’d use if you were using just one of the pronouns. But what do you do when you want to modify your pronoun with an adjective? The grammars I’ve seen leave their students high and dry on that one. The grammar book from my freshman-year English class in high school never talked about it. The ESL books I taught from never talked about it. Garner doesn’t talk about it. Even the descriptive MWDEU and CGEL don’t address this as far as I’ve been able to see.
What the grammar and usage guides ought to do, of course, is say to use the objective form when a pronoun is modified by an adjective, since phrases like *stupid I are clearly ridiculous. But I bet the first grammar book that notices adjectives modifying pronouns will go for the rule that’s easy to state but impossible to take seriously: Use whatever form you’d use if the adjective weren’t there.
Of course, I haven’t looked at every grammar book, and for all I know, one or more of them has, in fact, covered this topic. If you’ve seen it covered, who did it and what did they say?