English English language Expression Grammar Phrase origin Usage

“Woe is I” vs. “Woe is me”

Q: I love your book, but I have a question about the title. How come it’s Woe Is I and not Woe Is Me or Woe Am I? Is there a reason?

A: I chose the title Woe Is I to poke fun at hypercorrectness—that is, incorrectness used in the mistaken belief that one is being  ultra-correct. (A good example is a sentence like “Give your seat to whomever needs one.”)

In the case of the book’s title, the butt of the joke is the old rule of English grammar (now considered excessively formal) that required the nominative case after the verb “to be.” (Example: using “It is I” instead of “It is me” or “It’s me.”) I wanted to show how ridiculous we sound when we go overboard in the name of correctness.

As I wrote in the preface to the second edition, “the expression ‘Woe is me’ has been good English for generations. Only a pompous twit—or an author trying to make a point—would use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ here.”

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