Grammar Check

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

This coming Thursday is the lecture I start with a little puzzle to get students warmed up for the new year. It’s actually related to my pet peeve which is people who say ‘I’ when they should say ‘me’. I notice it a lot on TV – the English teacher in Neighbours, for example (Susan Smith) always gets it wrong which makes me wonder why she’s allowed to teach English at all… (what do you mean it’s not real?)

Anyway, here’s the puzzle:

Two of these phrases are grammatically correct, two are not.

  1. My friend and I bought a newspaper
  2. My friend and me bought a newspaper
  3. The shopkeeper smiled at my friend and I
  4. The shopkeeper smiled at my friend and me

Answers at the bottom of this post…

Anyway, the point about this is actually related to graphic design/illustration in that it’s usually the foreign students who get it right, while the home students don’t. Why? Because we tend only to be taught things like grammar when learning foreign languages.
Sometimes I ask students the same question in French and more people get that right, which is interesting. Knowing the difference between ‘moi’ and ‘je’ but not ‘me’ and ‘I’.
The study of visual culture and the theories that inform it often meets with resistance because it is either ‘obvious’ or goes against common sense, something I’m writing about for my next Speak Up article (which is going far too slowly). But things that are ‘obvious’ actually aren’t – until they’re pointed out.

The best example of this came in the last lecture before Christmas, which was on the techniques supermarkets use to get us to buy things. Everything was so ‘obvious’ yet there seemed to be a sense of shock among the students (or was it hangover from the previous night’s party?) When I asked how the session made them feel, one student said ‘I feel violated’ – and this is from simple things like putting the milk at the back so you end up buying things you don’t want (and forget the milk in the process, if you’re anything like me) to fresh fruit at the front and the smell of bread in the air.

To me, all this stuff is the ‘grammar’ that underpins the visual (and non-visual) language that goes on around us, the syntax that makes things work the way they do. Like really good rhetoric, well-structured visual grammar can have us nodding in agreement with things without us even knowing, which is of course an extension of the whole pizza flyers idea that stuff that stands out is likely to be less effective than something that is anonymous and invisible.

So… the answer? Score full marks if you said 1 and 4, nothing if you got one right, and minus 10 if you got both wrong. I’m in that sort of mood…
If you don’t understand why 1 and 4 are right, look it up!

PS I’ve gone over this post to ensure there are no grammatical faux pas (is ‘faux pas’ plural? ‘Gin and tonics’ is another one I hate – It’s ‘gins and tonic’!).
But in case there are any, can I make the excuse that they are deliberate mistakes intended to catch you out and leave it at that?

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