The Grammarphobia Blog

A modest proposal

Q: I was amused by your blog item about the New York governor’s misuse of pronouns. He said the former governor had “my wife, Michelle, and I up for lunch.” I’m glad he put an “up” in there. Once you have the grammar sorted, there’s still a problem when people say things like “we’re having the children for dinner.” Well, I love children, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.

A: I agree that “having the children for dinner” sounds comical. It reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s essay “A Modest Proposal.” He suggests solving the dual problems of starvation and overpopulation among the poor Irish by having them eat their children.

Or, as Swift so colorfully puts it, “a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

One way of treating children that are fed up with you or, perhaps, vice versa!

I often see and hear such delectable constructions as these: “We had the couple next door for lunch,” or “We’ll have the parents for a barbecue.”

In this sense, “have” means something like “invite,” or “have over.” I agree, though, that it leaves one open to laughter, so it’s much better to stick in a preposition.

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.