"I'm tired of being nice!" a man at the bar of the taproom exclaimed. "It's time somebody such as myself speaks the truth about all the losers who are abusing our language! It's time to make English great again!"
A group of people who were huddled around him raised their glasses and cheered. I had just ordered a Belgian style Glocal IPA and was eager to return to my Nordic ski friends, who were lamenting the unseasonably warm weather leading up to the American Birkebeiner ski race, but I couldn't resist the temptation to offer a comment.
"I understand your anger," I said in my most reasonable and diplomatic tone, "but a personal pronoun following such as should be in the nominative or subject case rather than the reflexive case, so you should have said somebody such as I, not somebody such as myself."
"But aren't there alternative rules?" asked a woman standing nearby.
"Indeed, there are," I said. "In less-formal English you could say somebody such as me. You could also say somebody like me, but somebody such as myself is grammatically wrong. Reflexive pronouns such as myself, yourself and herself are used when the object of a sentence is the same as the subject, as in 'I misrepresented myself' or 'She made a fool of herself.' "
"But I'm calling for great change," said the man at the bar, "and, believe me, nobody calls for great change better than me."
"There again," I said, "you should have used the nominative or subject case I, not the objective case me, so it should be 'Nobody calls for great change better than I [call for great change]."
"But don't you agree we need to save our language?" he demanded.
"Absolutely," I said. "I believe we need to preserve what is beautiful and precise and genuine about English, even as the language we love changes and evolves over time."
"So how do we do that?" asked another man at the bar.
"Pay attention to people who know more than you do. Listen to the experts. Learn the basic rules of language, and then decide which ones you're going to follow and which ones you're going to disregard. Base your decisions on your audience, your subject and the occasion."
"Experts?" asked the woman. "What experts? Like whom?"
"Well, there, for example, it would be fine to say like who, even though traditional English grammar calls for the objective case."
"So who do you recommend?" she asked.
"Well, I'm a fan of Bryan Garner. I love his insight and wit. In "The Elements of Legal Style," he offers the following gem regarding the phrase just deserts: 'So spelled, but trite.'
"He also quotes [former U.S. Supreme Court] Justice Felix Frankfurter, who advised a 12-year-old boy 'to come to the study of law as a well-read person' and with 'the capacity to use the English language ... and the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give.'
"'If we know and appreciate literature,' Garner continues, 'we understand life more keenly than before.' "
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.