Misbehaving Memes: thou, with, and went

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Since Richard Dawkins coined the word in 1976, meme has become familiar to social media users as a captioned graphic used to convey a thought meant to be amusing, inspiring, or informative and shareworthy.

Thanks to their popularity, memes have spawned slapdash versions consisting of little more than a colored square containing words. Many, however, reflect considerable creativity and labor. Unfortunately, many otherwise attractive memes are marred by inattention to basic language conventions.

1. A Birthday Meme
Using a form of the archaic English pronoun thou is a frequent attention-getter for advertisers and meme-makers. Unfortunately, the forms are often used incorrectly, as in this birthday meme.

The graphic shows the portrait of a leering Restoration rake pointing at the viewer, overlaid with this text:

Have Thineself A
Ecstatic Day of Yearly
Birth Celebration

The meme contains two errors. Most blatant is the nonword Thineself.

The forms for the archaic singular second person pronoun thou are these:

Subject: thou
Object: thee
Possessive Adjective: thy
Possessive Pronoun: *thine
*thine was also used instead of thy before a vowel sound or letter h.
Reflexive/Emphatic Pronoun: thyself

Examples of usage:

Thou art a good friend. (subject)
I love thee. (object)
Where is thy father? (poss. adj.)
This dog is thine. (poss. pronoun)
Keep thy hands to thyself. (reflexive pronoun)
Thine eye shall be instructed, and thine heart, Made pure . . . (thine substituted for thy)

The other error in the meme is the use of the article A preceding the word Ecstatic. The placement of the A far from Ecstatic doubtless contributed to the error.

The indefinite article has two forms, a and an. The form an is used before words that begin with a vowel sound. Ecstatic begins with a vowel sound.

Here is a possible improvement:

Have Thyself
An Ecstatic
Day of Yearly Birth Celebration.

2. An Inspirational Meme
An interactive drama series called Trylife, a nonprofit project designed to help youth make reasoned decisions, posts many text memes with positive messages worth sharing.

One that caught my approving glance is this one:

The only people with whom you should try to get even with, are those who have helped you.

I noticed the embarrassment of withs only upon a second reading: with whom and get even with.

Two possible syntaxes have been conflated:

The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.

The only people whom you should try to get even with are those who have helped you.

3. An Amusing Meme
The graphic in this one is the photo of a car parked by a fireplug. The front windows have been broken to admit passage of a fire hose. The photo says it all, but a caption has been added:

Sure They Could Have Went Under Or Around The Car But That Teaches No Lesson

Alas, our few remaining irregular verbs are under assault, not only in memes, but also on the airwaves. I have heard news announcers make the same error.

The irregular verb to go has the following forms:

Present: go/goes
Past: went
Past participle: [have] gone

Corrected meme text:

They Could Have Gone Under Or Around The Car . . .

There’s nothing wrong with the use of informal language in memes aimed at a popular online audience, but “informal” doesn’t mean “nonstandard.” Meme-makers can improve their chances of having their creations shared by observing basic language conventions.

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