Am He Gone, Are He Went…and Snippet

Posted: January 19th, 2013 under snippet, the writing life.
Tags: ,

From one of my mother’s favorite joke verses…and relating to the power outage that had all my stuff offline for awhile this afternoon.    I learned to recite this as a little kid, and I still think it’s funny.

Am he gone?  Are he went? Have he left I all alone?  Us can never go to he; he can never come to we.  O cruel world, to I unkind!  Go he way and leave I hind! It cannot was.

It wasn’t in the “humor and whimsy” section of the big poetry anthology we had, so I have no idea where it came from, nor did my mother.   Online search didn’t find it (haven’t looked lately, though.)   If you do, let me know the author.  At any rate, the power up in north Texas was off, shutting down my hosting service, the wonderful,  and they were kind enough to post what happened on Twitter and let us know when they got back up again.

The warehouse scene continues to amuse (me, anyway)  although the transitions are still extremely rough.  They feel rough to Arvid, too.

Anyway…a little bitty snippet from today that may or may not be like this in the final version:


How many were there?  The report they’d gotten only said “a gang of men” had attacked the grange.  Arvid felt in his cloak pockets–he had only three bolts left.  He glanced behind.  Could he make it over the next roof before they got to him?  Maybe.


It has to be brief because it’s a Book V snippet and would otherwise be trailing a cloud of spoilers for Limits of Power.


  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — January 19, 2013 @ 10:45 pm


    Love the poem! And thanks for the snippet. it would seem the Story yeast is bubbling nicely.

  • Comment by Richard — January 20, 2013 @ 1:56 am


  • Comment by Richard — January 20, 2013 @ 4:30 am


    Yet more discussion with, in the middle, two more variations on the poem (which is clearly an epitaph)

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 20, 2013 @ 6:31 am


    Richard: Thanks for the history of the verse…from this, I can make a more educated guess. My mother probably learned it from her parents (the way I learned it from her), possibly from one of the collections of humor that her father had (but that were lost later in a hurried house sale when his second wife was dying of cancer and he’d been hit by a car.) I will bet it was concocted as a spoof by someone mocking uneducated speech–but going far beyond what any one person ever actually said, and of course it would spread and gain variations once it was in print, and then be attributed to whichever “illiterate” group a speaker meant.

  • Comment by Annabel — January 20, 2013 @ 7:50 am


    My father tells of the “foreigner” (nationality undisclosed, but I rather think meant to be Mittel-Europa of one flavour or another), hanging on the phone while it was ringing:
    “Vos you there? Vos you there? Vos you there? (Phone is answered) Oh! You vos!”

    Before he became to deaf to use the telephone, “Oh! You vos!” was a family greeting when he answered it!

  • Comment by Annabel — January 20, 2013 @ 7:51 am


    Eeeek: “Too deaf” of course. Why does one not notice one’s typos until it is too late?

  • Comment by Sarah — January 20, 2013 @ 10:41 am


    The sociolinguist has to chime in: The grammatical errors in that poem wouldn’t be made by a native speaker; those are mistakes a foreigner would make. The amazing thing about human language is that all native speakers learn their own grammar and did long before any humans became literate. Even the errors kids make usually make some sort of grammatical sense. Usages like ‘ain’t’ aren’t ungrammatical in the strict sense of the term; they are non-standard – they don’t fit with upper class standards for speech but they conform to a rule of grammar. All dialects of English are grammatical by their own standards, even if they aren’t ‘literate’. Black English, for example, has more tenses in its non-standard grammar than standard ‘literate’ English. Anyway, any speaker of English would find that poem to be funny because they would recognize it was wrong, even if they couldn’t tell you why.

  • Comment by Alex — January 20, 2013 @ 2:09 pm


  • Comment by GinnyW — January 20, 2013 @ 4:09 pm


    Both the rhyme, which came up in a variety of sources, and the snippet.

    (a jokebook)

    I can’t seem to create the hyperlink. Oh well.

  • Comment by pjm — January 21, 2013 @ 1:31 am


    I would be guessing that Elizabeth is right and it is a manufactured piece rather than a real piece from a non-native speaker. I suspect we would all understand it to mean the same thing though.

    In the snippet, I didn’t notice anything unusual on first reading. Then I saw “gotten”, which is very rare in my experience of (non-American) English. Now it jumps out at me. How hard it must be to do a good job of writing and editing. We have been fortunate in both throughout the Paksworld series.


  • Comment by Richard — January 21, 2013 @ 2:35 am


    Well done Alex. Now, to locate and date the “ancient tombstone” … I wonder when and where the verse grew the extra lines Elizabeth has. They do improve it. Also, how amazing to find nineteenth century back numbers of the New York Times on the internet, let alone that 1843 magazine.

    Sarah, in my opinion anyone playing like that with a language is thoroughly at home in it.

    Peter, I took “gotten” in my stride, even though my dictionary describes it as arch., Scot. and U.S..

  • Comment by mikelabb — January 21, 2013 @ 3:55 am


    I am very pleased I didn’t encounter “gotten” till I had left private school in the UK. If I had used the word in either English Language or English Literature classwork, I would have spent a week in detention!
    Most of the way through January; June is becoming a possibility.

  • Comment by Sharidann — January 21, 2013 @ 4:56 am


    Thanks for the snippet!

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 21, 2013 @ 7:23 am


    pjm and mikelabb: Believe it or not “gotten” was taught in my early grammar classes as the correct form for perfect tenses of that verb. We were told that “had got” was illiterate, bad, trailer-trash-level, and that using “gotten” preserved the true, pure form…which had been lost from (for instance) “buy/bought/boughten.” Given the array of irregular verbs we were supposed to master, we accepted “gotten” as currently correct (especially since it was in current use in both speaking and writing…though it’s now much less common than in my childhood. Perfect tenses and subjunctive mood have both eroded to mere remnant outcrops.)

    It does illustrate a particular tangle for the writer who wants to signal time-lapse in historical fiction or fantasy…which usages labeled archaic in the dictionaries (and thus good signals) are differentially perceived in various English speaking countries? It helps to have native speakers/writers of the other dialect clarify that point. I find it funny (but obviously true) that schoolchildren in one might be punished for using a form that those in another region might be punished for not using. Mental image of teachers having a face-off over “gotten”.

    Another point of contention is “that.” (Not even going as far as “that” v. “which”…) US copy editors favor “that” in such situations as “He said that he would be there on Friday” but I was told by an Australian that that that wasn’t needed and that there are too many thats in American writing. (Yes, jokes intended.) We say “He said he would be there on Friday” usually without the that. But in a book manuscript, a copy editor will insert it if the writer leaves it out. (Or my copy editor(s) will. And I will stet that chance.)

    But that is a side issue to “gotten.”

  • Comment by GinnyW — January 21, 2013 @ 9:25 am


    Obviously the English use of gotten has gotten confused over the course of time. I, like Elizabeth, was taught that it was required for the perfect tenses. I must confess, however, that being a native speaker of English was more confusing than helpful when I needed to learn perfect tenses and the subjunctive and conditional moods for other languages.

    Is the rhyme related to Arvid’s mood as he scrambles around the rooftops?

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 21, 2013 @ 9:48 am


    GinnyW: From what I understand, different parts of earlier usages were conserved in the US and in the UK. The rhyme was related to my thoughts, not Arvid’s mood, as I worked through the rather complicated sequence of events leading to Arvid’s rooftop adventure. It was more “Am he gone, are he went YET?” Applied to several different male persons, some alone and some in groups.

  • Comment by Jenn — January 21, 2013 @ 10:11 am


    Thank you for the snippet.

    The only thing I remember from the very little grammar I was taught was aloud not out loud.

    My first really lessons in grammar were struggling in French.

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 21, 2013 @ 10:28 am


    Interestingly, our adult son just took a pre-test in a college-level English Composition class (online, from McGraw-Hill’s “connect” site) and the first question involved finding the correct combination of helping verb and main verb (what WE called them)–the correct pair was a past perfect. Had taken.

    Our South Texas schools were not particularly good, but we had old, old textbooks, which were. They didn’t start calling it “language arts” until the late ’50s, by which time I was in junior high and then high school. So we had Reading and Grammar. I don’t remember all of it, and the language arts movement changed the names of the parts…but we learned a lot of useful stuff. We also diagrammed sentences. Lots of them. I loved diagramming sentences and used to make up hideously complicated ones from the sheer pleasure of taking a BIG piece of paper and dissecting them.

    It’s no wonder I enjoy Victorian prose, or some of it.

  • Comment by Ed Schoenfeld — January 21, 2013 @ 10:41 am


    Re: Sarah the Sociolinguist: “The grammatical errors in that poem wouldn’t be made by a non-native speaker.”

    Unless, of course, the native speaker were constructing a teaching rhyme for non-native speakers.

    “He may never come to we” isn’t just a humorous error, it is a humorous mnemonic that ‘he must always come to *us.*’ Very helpful for people who haven’t yet internalized those pronoun cases.

    Ed, the former (and entirely amateur) ESL coach

    PS: Believe me, you use *every* tool you can.

  • Comment by mikelabb — January 21, 2013 @ 12:10 pm


    I assume you have all met this laugh-a-minute bit of grammar:

    “Elizabeth where Mike had had had had had had had had had had had the teacher’s approval”

    Punctuate the above so that it makes sense. It took me more than one attempt, and I have a level 1 exam pass in English Language.

    Nowhere near as interesting as “Am he gone, are he went”. I don’t think it is a grammar teaching structure; I think that some dialects of English could actually produce these words as a funeral ode or similar. When you next get a chance, try listening to some Old English speech. They don’t distinguish between he/she, I/me and so on.

  • Comment by patrick — January 21, 2013 @ 3:36 pm


    I found another reference at:

    The Flash, 1922 – not nearly as old as the 1843 reference, but more likely to be close to the publication source for Elizabeth’s parents or grandparents to have encountered the verse.

    In that reference, it is slightly trimmed, reading:

    Am he gone or are he went?
    Him has left I all alone,
    Us can never go to he;
    Him can never come to we;
    It cannot was.

  • Comment by Alex — January 21, 2013 @ 5:06 pm


    Here’s a list of epitaphs, from 1896:——-10–1—-0–
    It claims the stone was in Delaware.

  • Comment by pjm — January 21, 2013 @ 5:52 pm


    In Patrick’s reference the piece does look very like a teaching verse.

    Grammar rules were made to serve the cause of clarity. As language is complex and changing the rules are not perfect. Some of us follow the rules at the cost of clarity, while others drop rules and by doing so lose clarity. Being human, we argue about which of the two ways is right.

    I only recall one novel series where grammar got in the way for me. The author used “thee” for both “thee” and “thou”. I found it very hard to get used to. Others must have found it easier, as there was a trilogy.


  • Comment by Naomi — January 22, 2013 @ 5:53 am


    listen up folks the only true crime is the old apostrophe and getting it right for it’s or its… personally I dislike ‘dove’ for ‘dived’… heigh ho, onward and upwards, for all and Arvid in particular.

  • Comment by Annabel — January 22, 2013 @ 6:24 am


    “Gotten” is one of those words that has been totally dropped in UK English, but conserved in US English. There are plenty of others; one fascinating blog that discusses some of the many differences in our respective dialects is this one

  • Comment by Julia — January 22, 2013 @ 7:44 am


    I too went to Jr. High in the late 50’s a remember grammar classes. Diagraming sentences seem to go on forever, I think though at least 9th grade. I too loved it especially the long ones where you had also sorts of lines and trees.

    Another word the US speakers use much than English is the word the. The English would say “he went to Hospital” not like US “he went to the hospital” Since I did not go to English schools I have no idea of the rule but since I read a lot of english novels, it use to jump out at me.


  • Comment by elizabeth — January 22, 2013 @ 8:42 am


    pjm: I suspect–from the variations of the rhyme–that it originated in a simple form, which might have been either a joke or a much shorter epitaph or who knows what–and then spread, initially by mouth, and was picked up, massaged, and re-used for various purposes by various writers. It does make a teaching tool: it’s easy to remember and it’s easy to remember it’s completely “wrong,” so the student can simply use the other pronoun and be “right.” It is funny, so it can be used to label any group the user wants as illiterate and worthy of ridicule. It works as a joke piece without even specifying a target. As for the misuse of case in “thee” and “thou”…I believe that misuse was characteristic of one particular dialect. Misuse of case these days in the US is common in the attempt to avoid using “me” (at least, I trace the beginning of that to a period when “me” was used pejoratively in politics, with “the me generation” etc.) Earlier there’d been pressure against “I.” Now you hear “I” in place of the correct “me,” especially as the object of prepositions and especially if it’s linked with another name. “They came to see I and John.” “Betty gave it to Suzy and I.”

    As for grammar rules: Historically, not a complete explanation. Grammar rules in English were not merely made in the service of clarity, but in the service of regularity and reason, using Latin grammar as a model. They arose in and following the Reformation, when literacy became important–every person was supposed to be able to read (and being able to read quickly leads to being able to write–more or less.) But literacy had been based on being able to read and write Latin, not the vernacular language, and Latin’s structure was assumed to be the right and proper structure of language. So the rules attacked common usages that did not cause confusion as well as those that did. However, regularizing English as much as they managed did produce written English intelligible to those whose spoken dialects were mutually confusing. American and British English would be even farther apart without this pressure by grammarians (much as they have been ridiculed by linguistics professors.) Once the language was pinned down by rules, stabilized over the centuries, it became more useful to both native speakers and those learning it anew. Now it’s true that grammar rules do serve the cause of clarity, and following the rules enables readers who know those rules to understand what the writer meant. Writers who ignore the rules completely are less comprehensible and readers easily misunderstand them. Changing grammar rules means immediately confusing some people who understood one another just fine before, and creating a new subgroup who are “in” or “out” as a result. A very human process, that: creating groups with their own rules so there can be insiders and outsiders.

    Naomi: We each have an “only true crime” in language, plus the personal likes and dislikes. My copy editor also dislikes “dove” for “dived” and I personally dislike “dived” for “dove.” (My copy editor really REALLY dislikes “spat” as the past tense of “spit” and wants “spit” instead, but I’m adamant on that one: you need a tense marker for such an emotive verb.) All apostrophe blunders bother me. The it’s/its thing is a cause of confusion, but so also the apostrophized plurals: “Fresh pear’s for sale.” “Farm-fresh egg’s.”

    Annabel: Thanks for that link.

    Julia: Thirty or forty years ago, someone wrote a book about the overuse of “the” in US English; I ran across it in a community college library. The author’s concern was the flattening, dulling, of American English by overuse (and in places where the indefinite article “a/an” fit better.) I became convinced that my writing, at least, had too much “the” in it, and put it on my list of things to look out for. Would another word–indefinite article or another one–be more precise and thus “sharper?” I found the English lack of “the” before a destination category a bit jarring at first, but soon got used to it, and it became a useful distinction when I wanted something in a story to be just a little different, but not at all confusing. What I don’t like at all is the change from “graduated from high school” to “graduated high school.” I think that “from” matters. Others don’t. We all lose some arguments.

  • Comment by Mollie Marshall — January 22, 2013 @ 10:42 am


    As an addendum to the “graduated” question, I recall reading the form “was graduated from college”. Unfortunately I can’t remember the title of the novel, but it would have been early 20th century American.
    Apart from the “greengrocer’s apostrophe”, my pet peeve is the use of “lend” for “borrow”, but perhaps that’s just my librarian bakcground.

  • Comment by mikelabb — January 22, 2013 @ 11:16 am


    “Dive” is a regular verb in English, and a regular verb makes its past tense form by adding “ed” to the end (or just “d” if there’s already an “e” at the end of the word). So the past tense of “dive” is “dived”.
    “Dove” is a bird!
    But language usage changes all the time, not necessarily for the better.

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 22, 2013 @ 11:32 am


    mikelabb: Dive is NOW a regular verb. It wasn’t always. Hence the widespread survival of “dove” (long O) and the easy distinction from “dove” (short, in fact “uh” pronunciation) in speech and–with context–in writing. “Dove” was still given as an alternate past tense of “dive” in my college dictionary. It began as the usual irregular (to us) Anglo-Saxon word.

    Hence, when creating a “past time” feel to prose without going all “forsoothly”, the use of still understandable and barely (in the case of “dive”) outdated irregular forms is (in my admittedly prejudiced view) a feature, not a bug.

  • Comment by mikelabb — January 22, 2013 @ 12:32 pm


    OK Elizabeth, I concede. My Oxford English Dictionary says Definition of “dive”: verb (past and past participle “dived”; US also “dove”). Origin: Old English dūfan ‘dive, sink’

    But what is the past tense of “crash-dive”?

  • Comment by GinnyW — January 22, 2013 @ 4:09 pm


    After a crash dive, it is all over. So there is no need for a past tense. (Just kidding)

    I did not go to junior high until 1970, so I was “spared” studying grammar in the interests of “learning to appreciate literature.” It is VERY difficult to learn grammar on your own. It is much harder to learn in a foreign language. It is next door to impossible to figure out why the sentence you just wrote does work when you don’t know anything about grammar. Despite the rather arbitrary rules, grammar is one of the most useful things you could/can/should/might learn in school.

  • Comment by pjm — January 22, 2013 @ 5:15 pm


    Elizabeth, I agree with you. Thanks.

    Annabel, thanks. An interesting link.

    Julia, as I understand it (from an Aussie perspective) “I went to hospital” usually implies going for treatment and does not suggest any particular hospital, whereas “I went to the hospital” makes it a destination like any other, and a particular hospital is implied.
    Similarly “I went to school today” (and learned my 7x tables) and “I went to the school today” (and delivered tea and coffee for the staff).

    Re me and I, at primary school I was taught very strongly that it is incorrect to say “Jim and me went to see Jack”. The lesson was so effective that now people often say “Jack came around to see Jim and I”.

    Another change – I was taught “dice” (not “die”) as the singular for “dice”. (Should it be “douse”?!!)


  • Comment by rkduk — January 22, 2013 @ 5:35 pm


    Douse the die in lye, me laddies,
    Douse the dice in lice!

    Don’t let your dies just lie, me buckos,
    But scrub them once or twice!

    Sorry, compulsion seized and wouldn’t let me go.

  • Comment by Genko — January 22, 2013 @ 7:10 pm


    Peter, yes, the misuse of “I” in “Jack came to see Jim and I” is often a reaction to being corrected from using “me,” and is what we called in Linguistics class some years ago a “hypercorrection.” There are lots of those around. People who don’t really understand the rule (or maybe don’t care about the rule) are likely to find something that “sounds right,” or just get confused and try to sound like a grammarian.

    I will sometimes say something like “me and Judy are going to town” even though I know it’s not grammatically correct, as a way of meeting a particular register — an informal vernacular of sorts. It actually fits the situation better sometimes than the more grammatically correct “Judy and I are going to town.”

    I think that’s part of what Elizabeth is talking about in signalling a shift of register, giving a particular flavor of who the speakers might be, etc. The Liaden books I’ve been devouring lately do this very well, talking a lot about language (and kinesics, which is a whole ‘nother matter, and more difficult to convey in a book), and showing people who are uneducated or from a different culture or otherwise not in the groove as using a different form of language. It hits the “ear” differently, and conveys something important about who these folks might be.

  • Comment by pjm — January 23, 2013 @ 2:00 am


    rkduk – I like it!

  • Comment by Richard — January 23, 2013 @ 8:17 am


    mikelabb: after one detention for telling your English teacher that “gotten” is right, you could have had another for telling your RE teacher that “begotten” must be wrong.

    I can have a cooked breakfast, a hurried breakfast or a late breakfast, but never “a breakfast”. “This morning I got out of bed, combed my hair, had a bath, and had breakfast.”

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — January 23, 2013 @ 10:49 am


    rkduk – I like it too.

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — January 23, 2013 @ 11:03 am


    This grammer thread reminded me of my seventh grade English who frequently chanted, “lie, lay, lain, lay, laid, laid”. She made two syllables out of “lain”.

  • Comment by pjm — January 23, 2013 @ 8:49 pm


    I just looked back and saw mikelabb’s #20. I think the link below has been seen before in this blog, but it is worth another visit.


  • Comment by Kathleen Hanrahan — January 24, 2013 @ 1:07 am


    On the grammar – sigh!

    Both of my parents were English teachers, so my grammar was corrected (almost!) 24/7. Then I had several good English teachers and got the *reasons* behind the way I (correctly) spoke. I was in on the end of sentence diagramming and enjoyed it.

    Alas, it has been a while. I don’t remember some of the rules and bits of my grammar have slipped, but I still do pretty well.

  • Comment by Richard — January 24, 2013 @ 3:09 am


    Two more quirks of how I, in the UK, use English:

    – “Before going into hospital for my operation, I’d had to keep two appointments at the hospital.”

    – “I go to the supermarket every Thursday” (when what I actually do is go to Sainsbury’s some Thursdays and Tesco’s the others)

    Was sentence diagramming taught only in America? I’d never heard of it, and from what people are writing I think I would have enjoyed it.

  • Comment by Mollie Marshall — January 24, 2013 @ 7:00 am


    I think that sentence diagramming was called parsing in the UK. I did loads of it at primary school, but my younger siblings didn’t. It went out of fashion at about the same time as proper (copperplate?) handwriting with pens dipped in inkwells. Yes, it was good fun for those with an analytical turn of mind, noun-clause-objects and all.

  • Comment by Susan — January 24, 2013 @ 4:59 pm


    This thread is fascinating. I had a brief introduction to diagramming sentences in seventh grade and loved it, but could never find another teacher who taught it. And verb tenses were only taught in foreign language classes. I’m still trying to find a good source to learn grammar and diagramming from, as the ones I’ve found all assume some previous knowledge, or at least familiarity with the terminology. I asked about diagramming at a curriculum fair once; the woman gave me a funny look and said, “I’ll bet you’re good at math, aren’t you?” (She was right.)

  • Comment by Genko — January 24, 2013 @ 8:38 pm


    No, I had sentence diagramming, but no pens dipped in inkwells. We did this in the 8th grade, and I think again in junior year in high school (mid-60s). There’s nothing like a good English teacher — I enjoyed them immensely. Diagramming sentences was fun for me, because it gave me information about how sentences were put together and why they made sense some ways and not other ways. It gave me the underlying system, as it were, and I always enjoy that.

  • Comment by Richard — January 25, 2013 @ 4:56 pm


    On further reflection, in UK English we can go to school, go to work or go to sleep.

    In my childhood, “go down town” was considered to be bordering on trailer-trash level as you Americans put it (despite being literally true where I lived, in that the town centre was at the bottom of a deep valley and my house, like nearly everyone else’s, was up one of the hillsides).

    Mollie, I think I must be of an age with your siblings, unless it is the age of our respective teachers that made the difference. My ink pens were of the cartridge type – I remember using them at secondary school. At primary school, for all I can now recall, it might have been pencils.

  • Comment by GinnyW — January 26, 2013 @ 12:11 pm


    You make me consider this. “Go down town” is definitely low colloquial, even more than go “down South” or “up North”. Yet we “go downtown” all the time when shopping in the center of the city. Perhaps this is an indication of upward mobility?

  • Comment by Lise — January 26, 2013 @ 3:07 pm


    In Canada, we speak a kind of weird mix of UK and US English. I was lucky to be able to have breakfat or a breakfast, go to hospital or to the hospital, or even like the color green or the colour green. You really had to work hard to be marked incorrect.

    I was at a French High School and took advanced ESL. Our grammar basically consisted of learning some plural rules, verb tenses and a list of about 50 irregular verbs. Our teachers then worked on trying to correct various gallicisms and run on sentences and the odd pervasive wrong form such as “My friends and I hanged out at the mall.”

    We did a lot of formal grammar in French (including diagramming) and a lot of that carried over nicely to English thanks to Latin-based grammar. The main problem was that English lacked some of the basic structures we were getting so dependent on in French. Many of errors in English were attempts to use precise and elegant forms from French. They always just got labeled run-on sentences. Writing proper English always seemed telegraphic and choppy with too many repeated words (you have a larger suite of pronouns in French).

    We also did lots of Litterature appreciation in French, as well as lots of writing in various styles. Our teachers never felt it was either-or. I guess that might be partly be the nature of French. The grammar can do so much for you if you know how, but you can get yourself tied in knots and look really dumb if you don’t, even if you’re a native speaker.

  • Comment by Mollie Marshall — January 27, 2013 @ 9:52 am


    Richard: Teachers always seem ancient when you are in primary school, but I think the copperplate handwriting and inkwells one really was. She retired at the end of that school year and her replacement taught italic handwriting. I’m not sure the younger ones had the nervous torture of mental arithmetic, either: three cauliflowers at eleven-pence-three-farthings each, and how much change from five shillings?
    ‘Going downtown’ I don’t recall until the Petula Clark song of 1964, and I never really understood how that was different from just going ‘into town’ which was the term used by us suburbanites. It seemed somehow special or exciting, which getting the bus or Tube most definitely wasn’t.

  • Comment by Richard — January 27, 2013 @ 3:01 pm


    Mollie, I thought people living near London went “up to Town” (note capital), but maybe that only applied in places more than a bus or Tube ride away.

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 27, 2013 @ 4:44 pm


    Interesting quirk from south Texas: in my home town, we said “going downtown” meaning “go to the center of town” but those living out in the country (not far away) usually said “going to town.” My step-grandmother, in a town twelve miles away, always said “going uptown”. We lived north of the town’s center; my step-grandmother lived south of her town center, and generally, people spoke of going “up” to San Antonio (320 miles. north) and Houston (300+ miles north-north east), “down to” or “over to” towns in Mexico (all south of us, but also “over the river.” But also “over” to Laredo (150 miles northwest, upriver, but on the same highway as all the other towns closer by.) In reference to the string of towns along the highway close to us, it was always “to” or “over to” them…they lay roughly east and west of us. It was always “down to” the coast (farther east.)

    But though I thought as a child that the N/S thing was part of “uptown” and “downtown”, most of the people in my step-grandmother’s town said “Going uptown” even if they lived north of the two blocks of businesses, and people in my town who lived south of the business district still said “Going downtown.” I learned early that “uptown” and “downtown” were the same sort of place–where the stores were. The business districts of the small towns varied depending on which way the town had been laid out originally–the ones where Main Street crossed the highway and the railroad always had bigger business districts than the ones where Main (or whatever it was called–nearly always Main) ran parallel to the highway, a block away. The biggest had intersecting railway lines crossing the line that paralleled the highway(our town was one of the biggest: when I was a child, it had two railway stations, one for the “local” line that ran E/W, and one for the line that ran north to San Antonio.) Downriver from us, another, different rail line ran north to Houston. Crossroads matter.

  • Comment by pjm — January 28, 2013 @ 12:34 am


    In my childhood we went to town (meaning to the city from the suburbs). Now we are more likely to go in to town (it may be either the centre of the satellite town or the city) or in to the city. Down to the city is used (we live to the North and also topographically higher). It is confusing that in railway-speak the up line goes towards Melbourne, which we always think of as down.


  • Comment by Corinne — January 28, 2013 @ 4:46 am


    The translation on the page (unattributed) seems very close.

  • Comment by Corinne — January 29, 2013 @ 3:46 pm


    It is interesting how it changes over time: Here is a similar poem from 1904, the earliest version I can find:

  • Comment by filkferengi — February 1, 2013 @ 9:53 pm


    Here’s Nate Bucklin singing his classic “Let’s All Diagram Sentences”:

  • Comment by elizabeth — February 2, 2013 @ 12:05 am


    filkferengi: That is hilarious, and at just after midnight when I’ve been dealing with Organizational Issues (never mind which organization–I’m silly enough to be in several) it was a great and much needed relief. I may suggest it to the committee.

  • Comment by Susan — February 2, 2013 @ 11:52 pm


    I’m having trouble hearing the words; does anyone know where to find the lyrics? Thanks!

  • Comment by GinnyW — February 3, 2013 @ 3:00 pm


    filkferengi: A good laugh for a long day. Thanks!

  • Comment by Abigail Miller — February 4, 2013 @ 10:24 pm


    Susan, me too. Hope somebody can help, as Google failed me.

    I did barely catch one reference to “object sublime,” which of course started a different earworm.

  • Comment by Sherri C — February 17, 2013 @ 2:05 am


    My English instructor at UNR was death on wheels on grammar – he relied heavily on Strunk & White “Elements of Style”. Everyone in the class had to memorize all the rules and get 100% on pop quizzes – which he repeated until everyone did get 100%. It is a handy reference. As to my least favorite error – I’m not sure if it an editorial thing, or a writer foible, but using a word they aren’t sure of incorrectly… My favorite example was the “herd of majestic heifers rolling along with their calves by their sides.” Next favorite was the rider “flexing his thigh muscles against the flank of the horse.” (Still trying to figure that one out…)

  • Comment by pjm — February 20, 2013 @ 4:10 am


    I quite enjoyed the grammar component of my English studies back at school. My favorites were the ambiguous sentences, such as “She had to brush, dust, cook and wash the baby every day.”


  • Comment by Linda — February 28, 2013 @ 10:21 am


    I was helping out in a grade 8 classroom recently where the teacher was working with his students on diagraming sentences. I got the impression that he was hoping they’d get better scores on the standardized writing tests which were coming up.

    My Mother and I were having supper at a diner in southern NJ where the waitress repeatedly referred to one or the other of us as “youse” rather than “you”. For example, “Do youse want cream with your coffee?” I wondered if she was trying to come across as “tough” or “real” New Jersey. Having grown up in the state 60 years ago, and having attended a high school where there really were toughs, I had never heard it used before in real life.

    All of which leads me to ponder the relevance of “class” in the use of language, even in our supposedly democratic society.

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