Mike Mentzer, writing for the Clapham Commentary (E-mail subscription only), laments the erosion of grammatical standards in the King's English:
During halftime of the NCAA lacrosse finals, two Duke players were describing the key to successful passing and shot making. "Me and him have to have eye contact."
Me and him?
There was a time not too long ago when "me and him" would have been considered bad form and poor grammar. More formal language was the key to success in making the world a better place. Today however casual language like "me and him" is considered more "authentic." Formal language is deemed to be detached. The poles have been reversed. Should we care? How does formal language make our world and us better?
Movies migrated to our lips in the 1960s, writes linguist John McWhorter. The sixties' rebellion against authority included overthrowing formal language for the casual language of everyday life (or, in McWhorter's words, beer-drinking speech). Casual language gained a reputation as intimate and "authentic." Formal language was disdained as detached and distant, boring and insincere.
Well, maybe that's part of it, but I have another theory about why standards in grammar have declined.
I suspect that in the sixties and seventies white guilt placed a lot of teachers in a dilemma. Minorities, particularly African-Americans, speak in a patois that is often grammatically atrocious even if culturally endearing. White teachers, confronted by minority students who seemed unable or unwilling to conform to grammatical convention, were faced with a difficult choice. If they demanded proper grammar from their students they looked like whitey imposing his standards on the black man by trying to make him "talk white." This would surely be seen as racist and oppressive and no self-respecting liberal white person wanted to be tarnished with that brush. But what to do?
The answer was simple in a relativistic world: abandon traditional grammatical rules and just let everyone decide for himself what was proper speech. Rather than maintain one standard for whites and a different one for blacks it was easier to just relax standards for both.
As with morals in the post-modern world so with everything, what's right is whatever works for you ... and he.RLC