Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Pittsburghese and the Grammar Rodeo

My wife and I have gotten into a grammar competition of sorts. It hasn’t risen to the level of a Canadian-sponsored Grammar Rodeo yet, but it’s getting there. And it’s really not much of a competition, either. I, being of a literary bent, am far inferior in matters of grammar compared to my artist wife (who knows 3 other languages). I’m also from Pittsburgh, which doesn’t help. While she has broken me of the habit of saying that the “car needs cleaned”, I have a number of other grammar challenges which she takes a certain joy in pointing out.

It goes like this: I’ll be regaling her with a spell-binding story, and I’ll say something like “…and the snarling man-eating bear was so much bigger than me…” and before I can get out another cliff-hanging word, my wife will say in a calm voice, “than I.” This always stops me dead in my tracks, and usually causes me to say “than me,” which prompts her to respond “than me am?” She also catches me on the use of “who” and “whom”, the subjunctive, and I’m pretty sure, from the way she looks at me, she knows if I’m intending to use the word “you” in the subjective case when it should be in the objective case.

Naturally, I’m always on the look-out for any tiny mistake she might make, but I’m not very good at it. For instance, just this weekend, she said “I gave the book to him,” and I jumped right in and said “you gave the book to Bill,” which was a lie, and so she said “who?” and I said “WHOM” (in all caps, too). She walked away.

This competition can become quite heated (at least on my part), so to diffuse a volatile situation, I throw some humor in from time to time. For instance, if she says something about having to “dye the sofa cover”, I’ll say, “no, no, you have to kill the sofa cover.”

It’s hard fighting with her about grammar, because she’s always right and I’m from Pittsburgh. Which brings up another language-related issue: pronunciation. When we first started dating, she thought I had a speech impediment. I don’t have the traditional “yinz gawn dahn-tahn to Permantees n'at” accent, but apparently I have a bit of an “inflection,” as I like to say. I have a problem, it turns out, with the letter “l” as it relates to the letter “o”, causing me to sound like a two year old just learning to speak. For instance, when I say “boy, it’s cold outside,” I’m actually saying “boy, it’s cowid outside.” The problem is, I sound perfectly normal to myself. As it turns out, I’m not “two years owid”, the house across the street wasn’t just “sowid”, and I’ve never been “towid” I remind someone of Jack Lambert. But with her gentle tutoring, my grammar is getting more betterer each and every day. My brain just needs rearranged and between my wife and I, I’ll soon be the best.

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