Sunday, February 18, 2007

me (n)either / nor (do) I

Robert wrote last week to say:
Watching a film called The Holiday yesterday evening, I was astonished to hear Jude Law, playing a British character, say, "Me, either" in reply to something Cameron Diaz had said. To my [...] Southern British ears that sounds very American. I would say "Neither/nor do I" or rather less likely "Me, neither." Any thoughts?
My first thought is: the screenwriter is American, right? Right--although the title of the film, shows some Anglophilia. You'd have thought that Jude Law would have pointed the unnaturalness (for an Englishman) of the phrase to the director/screenwriter, but perhaps he's lost his sense of dialect.

Yes, me either is American, and there are plenty of pedants who will tell you it's wrong. Pedant's Parsnips (you can tell this is a British site--most Americans couldn't pick a parsnip out of a (AmE) line-up/(BrE) identification parade) says that me either is:
A doubly illiterate response to sentiments such as "I don't like this" where presumably it is short for "me don't like this either." Use Nor I. Or, if you prefer verbosity, Neither do I.
Americans are less vociferous on the topic, but there are plenty out there who will claim that it "should" be me neither or, preferably, neither do I or nor I.

Myself, I can't be too bothered about any of this. We can see two patterns here of agreement responses to positive and negative sentences. There's the "me-something" pattern and the "something do I" pattern.

The "me-something" pattern goes like this:
I like parsnips.
Me too.
I don't like Brussels sprouts. (AmE: often brussels sprouts)
Me neither.
BrE allows me too, as evidenced both by the title of a CBeebies television (BrE) programme/(AmE) show and by Better Half's predictable response when I say I want ice cream. But BrE doesn't like me (n)either. (AmE) Go figure.

The "something-do-I" pattern goes like this:
I like parsnips.
So do I.
I don't like {B/b}russels sprouts.
Neither do I. / Nor (do) I.

The "something-do I" pattern sounds more formal to my AmE ears, but "formal" isn't always "better".

As for pronunciation, me (n)either is pronounced with an 'ee' (IPA: /i/) sound at the start of the (n)either. Even if one uses the diphthong that sounds like eye (IPA: /aj/) at the beginning of (n)either in other phrasal contexts, in this phrase it must have the 'ee' (/i/). Both /i/ and /aj/ pronunciations of either/neither are acceptable in both AmE and BrE, although individual tastes may vary. (Myself, I say both/either. I've tried to discern a pattern in myself, but haven't come up with anything beyond the me (n)either regularity.) For more on the history of the pronunciation, see this 1999 post on Maven's Word of the Day.

33 comments:

strawman said...

Is brussel sprouts AmE for (BrE) Brussels sprouts ?

jangari said...

Pronunciation-wise (I'm trying to promote a semantic case-system in English, -wise is my relating to... case), I say me (n)[i:]ther and (n)[aj]ther do I.
So the crucial environmental difference is whether or not the (n)either is utterance-initial.

Forget that, I just re-read your post and discovered you said everything I just did. You're right, in all contexts apart from me (n)either I use [aj]. Perhaps this is an instance of vowel harmony? I like vowel harmony, and I'd feel much more positively about English if it actually had any. Having said that, it probably isn't vowel harmony at all, it certainly doesn't occur anywhere else, even making the environment as close as possible.
three nice people
[θri:najs...], never [θri:ni:s...].

Something else I've noticed in the last 5 minutes is that I have a strong dialectal preference for the something do I template. I also have an unfortunate presciptive tendency to dislike the use of 'too' in negative-polarity constructions like I didn't know that too. Exampleare out there.

Meghan said...

This is the first time I've heard of the term "identification parade." It sounds like it could be fun. :) There should be a British version of Law and Order so Americans can learn these things.

lynneguist said...

Strwamen, one way to express one's disgust for something is to get its name wrong. I can't think straight when it comes to B.S. Will correct in post, for the sake of linguistic pride.

(Good luck on your case systemem, jangari.)

Rebecca said...

Pronunciation, speaking personally, I say 'nigh-ther' but 'eee-ther' - no idea why! 'Nigh-ther' sounds better to my Northern ear, I think.

David said...

Me either. I use the term for humorous affect/effect, knowing that it's incorrect and because it's incorrect. That mode of humour has a healthy existence in the US given that there are a variety of similarly contorted phrases like "let's you and him go fight" and "we was robbed". The distortion/contortion is entertainingly funny.

In addition, use of a word to mean its opposite has a long and colourful history, including whatever is au courant among slang hipsters and hip slangsters: "you s**k" and "you be real bad" were a frequent expression of admiration among my friends.

In both senses, the idea is to say what I don't mean, and mean the opposite of what I do say. Playful are us.

David said...

Tangentially, what is the past possessive of comma? Is it comma'd?

The question is prompted by a play on the blog byline; the idea of being separated by a comma'd language.

Strwamen said...

Sorry if I offended you, Lynn. It was more the missing s I was getting at than the lower/upper case b/B, and it was meant as a genuine query, not a smartarse comment on an error.

lynneguist said...

Straw, I was teasing you. I added the 's' (I think I did--it's been a crazy day--will check later) and the B/b alteration came from checking dictionaries. I'm always grateful for queries about my own faulty writing!

Amy said...

My BrE husband has never said anything but 'brussel sprouts, though I wouldn't count on him for correct capitalization. I'm AmE--and I've never heard it any other way here in the US either. This is just sloppiness, right?---because who can manage to squeeze in that extra 's' in normal speech, after those 2 s's in the middle of 'brussel'? I'd bet not even those subtle folks who can slide in a shadow of a 'd' in Wednesday.

Have you chewed over the matter of dYukes (AmE dooke)and chtYuna (AmE toona)? A great source of amusement around this mixed-English household.... Still, there seems to be something truly sacred about that YOO vs OO thing in several words for my husband. Our child must learn the proper way.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Off the original subject, I grew up in eastern North Carolina and we said dyook for Duke (the university) and dyoo for due and nyooz for news. So the forms are not unknown in America. My mother and sister use them, for example.

On the original subject, I think I'm more likely do say "I don't either" (with /i/ not /aj/) than "Me either" or "Me neither" or "Neither do I" if somebody says "I don't like Brussels sprouts." And I do think I pronounce the final -s of Brussels as well as the initial s- of sprouts.

jangari said...

Thanks go you-wards, Lynne.

lynneguist said...

The tjuna-toona issue has already been covered here.

Thanks for all the other comments. I think David's about using non-standard language humorously is apt. The thing is...it's hard to recogni{s/z}e in another culture. Many times I've heard BrE speakers misunderstand educated AmE use of non-standard forms as serious usage--causing them to declare that AmE speakers don't know what's 'right'. But if I say something like He done got took when I mean He got taken ('duped'), I'm making a comment on the situation through my use of a non-standard language.

The same thing goes on in BrE, I'm sure--though possibly not to the same extent. But Americans mostly wouldn't think of saying that the British do anything "wrong" in speech. Well, this American might.

Jack said...

I found that I also pronounce the vowels in neither/either with both an "ee" sound as well as an "eye" sound. For me the pronunciation seems to depend on where the word falls in the sentence. For instance I would say:

"Neither do I" with the "eye" pronunciation
"Me neither" with the "ee" pronunciation

So "eye" if the word is the first in the sentence, and "ee" if it is not.

I would never say "me either," would usually say "me neither," and would maybe sometimes say "neither do I."

And working at a grocery store, I have encountered people buying parsnips. I haven't the slightest idea what people use them for.

jangari said...

But Jack, parsnips are wonderful!
You cook 'em like you'd cook carrots. Boiled, then with a knock of honey, a touch of butter and a grind of pepper. Fantastic.
They're also really good roasted in winter, but I'm in the wrong hemisphere to be talking about comfort food.

ally said...

Again on parsnips (sorry): they can be used (i suppose also like carrots) in cake. I made a yummy ginger cake with parsnips from a recipe in the Guardian weekend magazine a while ago. Yum. Might be time for another one of those!

(recipe: http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,1607614,00.html)

ally said...

er, there should be 'ml' on the end of that url. Sorry.

lynneguist said...

I do a lovely roasted parsnip salad. Parsnip rosti (another words Americans rarely know--it's like hash browns) is lovely too.

I'd say that parsnips are one of the great things about living in the UK, except that you can get (and cook/eat) parsnips easily in the US, so it's not quite right to count them as a great thing about the UK. I guess they're more of a great practice (i.e. the regular cooking and eating of them) than a great thing of the UK.

Jack said...

Do they taste similar to carrots? (I admit that I don't like carrots very much unless they've been really well cooked and smothered in butter.)

lynneguist said...

Like carrots, they have a sweetness to them, but they're not as sweet and have a different character of flavo(u)r.

I typed "what do parsnips taste like" into Google and found this. I don't agree with most of the answers, though...

I suggest: get a small parsnip (smaller = tenderer), cut it into sticks, put in an ovenproof dish tossed with olive oil and a good slosh of balsamic vinegar and bake in a medium-hot oven till tender. Or stick them in the pan with a roast (as you would onions, potatoes, carrots, etc.) and skip the balsamic.

Anonymous said...

You folks have been nipping the parse quite thoroughly here, and I've been enjoying it!

Lynn, you wrote,
But Americans mostly wouldn't think of saying that the British do anything "wrong" in speech. Well, this American might.

For what it's worth, I'd like to add that I have many times heard an American say of the British, in an admiring fashion, "Well, it is their language, after all."

Jack said...

I think there is a general notion amongst us Americans that the British have a more proper, hoity-toity, and cultured way of speaking. Though, this only applies to certain types of British accents and dialects.

As for parsnips - thanks for the advice. I may try some eventually, though I'm not very brave when it comes to trying new vegetables :)

chron said...

When I (an American) was living and working in London, I frequently heard "nor me" where I would say "neither do I."

Unrelated: sometime in my teens, I think, I figured out that my pronunciation of "me neither" didn't match my pronunciation of "neither" (with the eye sound) in all other contexts, and it caused me such cognitive dissonance that I began making a conscious attempt not to use the phrase at all. I still (unconsciously now) avoid it.

Peter Matthew Reed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Matthew Reed said...

Regarding n/i:/ther ~ n/aj/ther - I have absolutely no idea which pronunciation I use. A fact which makes me incredibly skeptical about other people's intuitions about their pronunciations.
All reminds me of a rather amusing incident in my kitchen a few weeks ago when a few international students were interrogating a native English speaker about which was better for n/i:/ther ~ n/aj/ther. I entered the kitchen, and suddenly their prayers were answered - an actual linguist (I don't know what people suppose we syntacticians do all day but I think most people guess I read a dictionary: Peter, You're A Linguist, What Does Pedagogical Mean? Well, I Know But That's Not Because Of What I Study). I told them I didn't know about n[i:]ther ~ n[aj]ther, and asked another English student who was there what he said. He answered n[oI]ther (sorry about the IPA, think 'boy'), in his usual Brummie (Birmingham) accent. Genius

John Cowan said...

People often find it hard to understand me when I say "milk" out of context ("What would you like to drink?" "Milk, please." "What?"), but not because I'm vocalizing it, it's just that it's so dark as to swallow the following /k/ altogether.

Postvocalic /l/ and /w/ move about considerably in various British dialects: "Bristol", for example, is spelled that way to match the local pronunciation of its original name, "Bridgestow".

nmmad said...

A late contribution, but I (BrE speaker) use "aither/naither" almost all the time, and so have no problem saying "me naither". "Me aither" might be a stage too far, not because of sound, but just because I don't think I'd say it, and I actually came upon this wonderful site while looking for comment on the status of "me either" (especially whether it had positive or negative sense). I remember getting very up-tight first time I heard a Canadian friend using the phrase "you (n) me both" (the and was there but hardly), but very quickly learned to like it as quirkily irregular. Maybe I'll relax into "me either" at some stage.

lynneguist said...

Update: I joined a queue/ line in a ladies' toilet/restroom today, and the (English)woman beside me said something like "A queue!" and I replied, "I've never seen a queue in this loo before", and she replied "me neither"! Except she pronounced the first syllable of neither like nigh rather than knee. I tried not to betray my shock--will the phrase become popular in BrE but with a different pronunciation?

Anonymous said...

Although the "me" as in "Nor me" or "Me neither" sound ungrammatical I believe it's used in these phrases as an emphatic form of the first person singular pronoun, rather than the object or indirect obect. One could compare it with the French "Moi non plus". John Wood (BrE)

gemini said...

hey,
just have a question...slightly related to the topic...can one use "either...nor" or "neither...or"??? with my indian mind i cannot think of any example...can u???

Jessica said...

I have a question...
Is grammatically correct to say: 'Me neither?'.
a friend raised me this question today and I said that the right is 'Me either'.
so tonight i've been searching for some answers but some people say that 'me neither' it's informal English,other people say that the wrong one is 'me either'.Now I'm completely in doubt.
Can anyone help me?

Jessica said...

FOR GEMINI:
the right is:'either...or' and 'neither...nor'

-'You can choose either pie or pizza'

-'I don't like neither pie nor pizza'

lynneguist said...

Your second sentence there has a problem. A native English speaker would not say 'I don't like neither X nor Y' because of the double negative (don't + neither/nor). You'd have to say 'I don't like pizza or pie' or 'I like neither pizza nor pie'.

The answer to your question in the previous comment is kind of in the blog post--it's a matter of opinion whether it's correct or not, and the opinion will probably differ according to whether the person who has it is English or American.