Sunday Night Journal — April 8, 2012
The Haunting

Why Is It Always Me?!

I got a chuckle out of Grumpy Ex-Pat's comment on the preceding thread: "I definitely would have spent Good Friday having a narcissistic self-pity attack." Yes, exactly. And it reminded me of a little-known movie that I saw quite a few years ago and wish I could see again. I couldn't remember the title, but I did remember one of the stars, a very well-known actor, and have just spent fifteen minutes tracking it down by guessing at titles in his filmography. Turns out it was a made-for-TV movie from the early 1990s and is not available on DVD, so the chances are pretty good that I won't see it again. I saw it years ago in a hotel when I was on some work-related trip--I rarely saw TV at home in those years. 

I'm not telling you the name of the movie or the well-known actor, because I'm about to give away the most important parts of the plot, and it's always possible you might run across it somewhere, and I don't want to spoil it. (Email me if you really want to know.) 

 It's a thriller/mystery sort of thing involving a very sleazy blackmailer, not especially notable except for the performance of the above-mentioned star. He plays the blackmailer, and does it so well that you really detest him and long to see him defeated--he's a villain of great craft, but not a sophisticated Mephistophelian one, just a shabby crook who happens to be pretty clever and who stumbles across an opportunity. After many twists and turns in the plot in which he squeezes his victim ever tighter, the tables are finally turned on him. Caught by surprise, and about to be shot, he exclaims, with bitter and whining resignation, "Why is it always me?!"

The idea that he could still, after all his evil deeds, consider himself a put-upon victim gives the scene a definite note of black humor. I think we're all somewhat in that position when we complain about our lot in life. I am, anyway.


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Reminds me of a great moment in the Sopranos where Tony Soprano asks, 'Am I a toxic personality?' One is always the last to know!

Indeed. What did the person Tony was talking to say in reply? The fashion in some circles seems to be "You're a good person. You've just made some bad choices."

One day, grammarians are just going to have to declare that "me" is conditionally nominative when used as the predicate nominative of "it."


I don't even know what you just said. I've always been a seat-of-the-pants grammarian. However, it is pretty clear that many grammatical standards (and spelling standards) are a lost cause. At least it seems that way to my wife and I.


Sadly, "It's me" doesn't even sound wrong to me.

I know. And, "It's I," sounds terrible.


I have trouble saying "This is he" when somebody asks for me on the phone.

We can console ourselves that even on national TV in 1960 Rod Serling could say "You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination."

For a long time I was conscious that something in this seemed wrong and grated on me, but didn't try to figure out what it was. Finally I realized it's "...boundaries are that of...".

Hmmm. What about "whose" after land?


Not sure if that's definitely *wrong* or just sort of bad writing, but yeah, it grates, too, just not as much as the other. I would say I'll consult Fowler tonight but I probably won't have time.

"the boundaries of which are those of imagination"

Right--but is "whose" illegal, so to speak, like the singular-plural conflict in "boundaries are that," or just very bad manners? I mean, I know "who" is for people and "which" for things, and I'm pretty sure I was explicitly taught that in school. But is it one of those tolerated things, like using "them" to avoid having to pick "him" or "her"? I used to complain loudly about that, but it actually goes back a ways, I mean before the recent collapse of standards.

I managed to take a minute to look it up in Fowler (Fowler's Modern English Usage, 2nd edition). He devotes about 3/4 of a page to "whose = of which," and I would love to quote the whole thing, but it would take too long.

" the starch that stiffens English style one of the most effective ingredients is the rule that whose should refer only to persons. To ask a man to write flexible English, but forbid him whose 'as a relative pronoun of the inanimate', is like sending a soldier on 'active' service and insisting that his tunic collar shall be tight and high; activity and stocks do not agree."

He has examples of the usage from Shakespeare and Milton.

Does Shakespeare not sometimes use "his" where we would use "its"?

I don't remember for sure, but that sort of rings a bell. I know there are instances of personifying things like the dawn ("flatters the mountaintop with sovereign eye"), but that's not exactly the same thing. I'm no great Shakespearian, though.

I'm wondering if it doesn't have something to do with the fact that at that time England and France, despite their constant conflict, where much more connected to one another and people who speak French are likely to call inanimate objects he and she.


I guess English and French were closer linguistically, too, with English having become somewhat frenchified (whatever French was then) after the Norman conquest.

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