But that’s not I nor you

My most recent adventure in pronoun case — the posting “Usage note: NomPred”, about nominative predicative pronouns — ended with a screen capture with the bit of dialogue

No, that’s more you. That’s not me.

which I converted to a piss-elegant pronoun version with That’s not I.

I haven’t found recent examples of this pronoun usage, not That’s not I, That’s not she/he, That’s not they, or (worse) That’s not we — NomPred we is extraordinarily unnatural — but I did find an example from the late 19th century, in a bit of didactic verse for schoolchildren:

Some folks long to die
But that’s not I nor you.

(where it’s repeated as the fourth line of morally instructive quatrains; this is the end of the first verse) — here conveying ‘but that’s not the way you and I are, but you and I aren’t like that’, and so indirectly conveying both ‘but that’s not the way I am, but I’m not like that’ and also ‘nor should that be the way you are, nor should you be like that’.

But that’s not I nor you (hereafter, example A). The history of NomPred pronouns is complex; as I wrote in a 3/25/12 posting:

MWDEU has a substantial article on it’s me (pp. 566-8) that traces the controversy back to the 18th century, with Joseph Priestley favoring the accusative on the grounds of custom and a corps of grammarians, headed by Bishop Lowth, on the side of the nominative. Both options are well attested in reputable writers, from that time till now.

A further complexity is that different predicative constructions behave differently: for example, the characterizing construction of That’s Pro ‘that’s the way (the referent of) Pro is, that’s what (the referent of) Pro is like’ allows some occurrences of NomPred in hyperformal English, where it reflects the usage teaching in many schools and advice manuals; but the ostensive construction of That’s Pro, identifying the referent of Pro in a visual representation (a painting, drawing, or photograph) by pointing to its representation — That’s me in the photo —  absolutely rejects nominatives.

In current usage, I would characterize NomPred pronouns as not just hyper-formal, but usually piss-elegant:

adj. piss-elegant: (American slang) displaying a contrived, often pretentious, sophistication, opulence, etc. (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed.)

But back in 1885, when A appeared as a refrain in the song “Some Folks” in  School Song Knapsack: A Collection of Songs for Common Schools by Henry Romaine Pattengill  —


— A was, I judge, merely “school-talk” (there were later printings of the book in, at least, 1886, 1897, and 1899). Even there, A has some notable features.

First, it has Auxiliary Reduction in that’s, rather than the formal variant that is. Presumably, this represents an attempt at mateyness on the part of the writer.

Second, another informal feature of A is the negated disjunction not X nor Y, rather than the prescriptively correct (but less emphatic) not X or Y or the prescriptively correct (but stiff and very formal) neither X nor Y. Again, the author of “Some Folks” mixes formal school-talk usage with informal schoolchild usage.

Third, and most remarkably, A has 1sg I first in a pair of coordinate NPs, flatly against the stringent school prescription — which I like to think of as the After You, Alphonse rule — that politeness requires that I (referring to the speaker) follow reference to others: you and I, NEVER I and you. However, this striking violation of schoolish politeness serves the didactic function of the verses: to set up the implied speaker of the verses, a figure of authority, as a model, and then to urge the addressees of the verses, schoolchildren, to adhere to this model; I don’t do this, and neither should you.

And then all of this is in children’s verse, which is often packed with archaic or regional usages — nursery rhymes are notoriously opaque and counter to current usage — so that A can scarcely be taken as evidence of NomPred pronouns in common use, even in the 19th century.

Henry R. Pattengill. A concise life history, from a Michigan state historical plaque:


The man was resolutely didactic (and upbeat). Some of his publications, other than the Knapsack:

A manual of orthography and elementary sounds (1900)

“Pat’s” pick, a collection of the sweetest, sanest, jolliest folk, school, and patriotic songs compiled by Henry R. Pattengill (1905)

Hints from squints; a book of fun and fodder, gumption and gimp, pedogogy and philanthropy, morals and manners (1905)

I suspect that “Some Folks” wasn’t original with him, but was adapted from some earlier source or sources.

In any case, the verse gained some currency, first in Michigan, and then in adaptations for other didactic purposes elsewhere.

From 1909, three pages from a high school reunion booklet: a title page, the menu for the reunion banquet (for scholars of food), and the program, with verses from “Some Folks”:




Then, still with school associations, but now bent towards hygienic purposes, in the Oklahoma Teacher, Vols. 2-3 (Oklahoma Education Association., 1921):


At some point, the trail of “Some Folks” runs out, though the prescription of NomPred pronouns lived on.

2 Responses to “But that’s not I nor you”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I’m inclined to think that the “I nor you” order is there in order to rhyme with “some folks do”, and not for some didactic purpose. But that’s just I.

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