Pronoun Showdown Follow-Up

By Vic Fleming

A while back, I cited a sports item in which two coaches were, respectively, if not respectfully, cited as having said that a matter was “between he and I” and “between me and him.” I asked which coach was correct, pronoun-wise. Boy-oh-boy, did I ever get viewer mail in response!

Larson writes, from Chattanooga: “‘Between’ is a preposition, and the correct pronoun to follow as the object of the preposition should be the objective form of the pronoun: me, him, her, them, etc. But ‘between me and him,’ while using the correct objective form, is incorrect, because the third person, ‘him,’ should precede the first person, ‘me.’ So, in my opinion, the correct way to say it is ‘between him and me.’”

Kathy writes, from Memphis: “There’s a real easy way to fix the pronoun showdown. Just take out the ‘and.’ Would you say ‘between I?’ Would you say ‘between he?’ DUH!!! … I learned that from my English teacher back in the dark ages.”

Eve writes, from I’m not sure where: “Both of the quotes should be ‘between him and me.’ First, because it just sounds better to my ears. Second, because him and me (collectively ‘us’) are objects of the preposition ‘between.’”

So, it all boils down to this: Him and me are objects, and him comes before me. (Which doesn’t sound great to my ear. But what do I know?)

I don’t discount the explanations of my learned readers. But it seems they overlook the significance of the quoted individuals being football coaches. That is, human American males who tend to speak in the subfrickative contortive case, with selected utilization of conjunctivitis. As in, “Way to stick it to ‘em, Big ‘un!,” a semi-independent clause heard on every football practice field I’ve been on.

Hardly noted for being grammarians, football coaches make up for this with added testosterone and enthusiasm. In the above quote, for example, it matters not that ‘em is usually plural and Big ‘un stuck it to only one player. In the subfrickative contortive, pure agreement of such things as numbers of players doesn’t matter - unless you’re talking about a number greater than 11. (There’s a penalty for having more than that many on the field.)

Also, the reader would be pre-immature if he/she thought that use of Big ‘un meant the sticker was necessarily larger than the stickee. As a term of art, Big ‘un used to imply a player of more than 275 pounds in NCAA Division 1.

When the coach-relative dictionistic rules are factored in, it becomes clear that the speakers each should have said that the matter “is between Ivan and Yuri.” Use of these common Russian monikers would ensure that some journalists would misunderstand, write “between I and you,” and fuel a pronoun debate.

Some reflective types (such as columnists) would explore the codesque symbolism, speculating, perhaps, that both coaches are CIA operatives who’ve not gotten past the Cold War. Still others might be moved to write poetry or to enroll in a Russian literature class.

Glad we cleared that up. Again, a big thank-you to all who replied.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.