I, Me, Caesar

Julius CaesarI have a lot of Pet Peeves, but one that has been bothering me a lot lately is the loss of case distinctions.

For example, I’ve been hearing constructions like this: “With you and I” 

Anyone who is the least bit sensitive to standard English grammar will cringe at that. Instead of the nominative case “I” it should use the objective case “me”. And those speakers who commit this atrocity seem to have some vestige of standard grammar left, because I never hear them say “With I, for example.

And this is not just endemic to the United States; I hear this mis-use of cases even in British speakers, who should definitely know better. It’s the Queen’s English, after all.

Worse, professional writers have also been afflicted with this inappropriate case disease.

Or as Cole Porter (thankfully) didn’t put it:

Good writers, too, who once knew every case
Now only use nominative case
But goodness knows
“With you and I” blows.

And while I’m on the subject of “I”, there’s a Caesar related translation I’d like to clear up.

You know Julius Caesar, I presume. But did you know that in Classical Latin, which is what Caesar spoke, “Caesar” is pronounced “KEYE-ssar”? (The “eye” indicates what in English we call a “long I”, and the double “s” indicates the unvoiced “s” sound (as opposed to the voiced, which is a “z” sound)) That’s where the German Kaiser comes from, as well as the Russian Tsar

Anyway, after Caesar won a quick victory, he is alleged to have used the phrase “Veni, vidi, vici”, to indicate his contempt for an enemy that fell so quickly.

This is usually translated as “I came, I saw, I conquered”, and I’m here to tell you that that translation misses the point of Caesar’s contempt. It adds a shade of solemnity to the phrase with its repeated use of the nominative “I”.

A better translation would be simply “Came, saw, conquered.” Without the use of the repetitive “I”, that more nearly conveys Caesar’s meaning. Because he did not use the phrase “Ego veni, ego vidi, ego vici.” 

Oh, and in Classical Latin that phrase is pronounced “WAY-nee, WEE-dee, WEE-kee”. Just so you know.

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