Monday, January 19, 2009

Grammar for idiots, by idiots

So my husband Leo, my daughter Q and I were sitting together around the dinner table, sharing our nightly repast. My husband was telling us about how much he has improved the lives of the three of us by doing so much housework today. He was especially interested in pointing out that both his daughter and his wife have benefitted from his efforts.

Him addressing both of us: "You are really lucky that your husband and your father does so much work around here."

Me addressing him: "You mean "or" in 'You are lucky that your husband OR your father does so much work around here.'" (any help with the quotation marks is welcome)

Him: "No. I am both a husband and a father."

At this, I roll my eyes.

Then he leans back in his chair a little bit so he can draw a boundary in the air around both Q and me with his hands and says emphatically: " in plural." Like he's explaining a difficult concept.

Him, with his hands hovering in the air sorta like bestowing a blessing upon us: "Yooouuuu (waving his jazz hands over us) are lucky to have a husband and a father to clean up after you all the time."

Me: "Yes, but the quality of having you as a husband does not apply to each member of this group, nor does the quality of having you as a father. They don't distribute transitively among the members of the group. The group is a singular thing, even though there are multiple entities within it, and the separate relationships of husband and father do not apply to the group itself, because both qualities do not apply to each member of the group. Therefore, you should use the exclusive "or": 'You are lucky to have a husband OR father who cleans up after you.' " (again - quotation marks here - comments welcome)

At which point he sighed and started clearing the table.

The trick is to change the subject and wear him down.

Now, even as I was saying it, I wasn't sure I was right. I felt I was right, but thought I kinda sounded like an idiot. Not that I shared that thought with Leo, of course.


gudnuff said...

I think this was pretty funny. Which just shows how out of touch I am with how other people think. But really, the more I hope for feedback on a post, the less likely I am to get it. I hoped and expected people would comment on both how this happens at their house, and also to discuss or correct the grammar issues, or back me up on my argument. I guess that's the linguist in me. I find this kind of question very interesting. Because it occurred to me: what if, as a member of the group "yooooouuuu", you had a father (which I do, who is NOT Leo) AND you had a husband who IS Leo. I still think what I said holds.

dgm said...

I think I would say, "Youuuuuuuze guys are really lucky to have [looking at you] a husband or, [looking at daughter] in your case, a father, who cleans up after you." But that's just me. I like saying "youze guys."

Incidentally, at our house we all jump in to correct each other's grammar, and we always try to be funny about it.