The Grammarphobia Blog

Songful conviction

Q: I was reading on your blog about the use of “were” versus “was,” and your explanation of the subjunctive. Suddenly, I remembered the song “Dixie” and its lyrics: “I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!” Shouldn’t that be “were?”

A: In any other context, the grammatically correct sentence would be “I wish I were in Dixie.” But, thank heavens, writers of song lyrics are exempt from the rules of English grammar, syntax, usage, spelling, pronunciation, and even logic!

So, the grammar police didn’t give Bob Dylan a ticket for singing “Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed.” Or, for that matter, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole for singing “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby.”

However, Bruce Springsteen got an A in grammar as well as music when he sang, “I wish I were blind / When I see you with your man.”

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