Free Speech

Noah Feldman and I on Free Speech, "Hate Speech," and More

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

A podcast in the Deep Background Freedom of Speech series (put out by Malcolm Gladwell's & Jacob Weisberg's Pushkin Industries); I think many of you will enjoy it.

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  1. Is “I” correct here?

    1. My thought, exactly. I think it should be “me.”

      1. Ditto. But Eugene knows that as well as we do, so there must be some arcane reason he’s right and we’re wrong.

        Until he explains wtf is going on here, this will ruin my day. Somebody get me Larry Klayman’s phone #.

        1. Would you settle for Tom Fitton’s number? Jay Sekulow’s?

          1. Now that there’s dialog, I hold out hope for an amicable resolution.

      2. Something about the writing of a person having the word, “professor” in his or her title triggers a compulsion in me to spell-check/grammar-check. I don’t think I’m alone on this one.

      3. Don’t think so. He and I…are on, or are speaking on.

    2. I think it should be “me” because Noah and Eugene are the objects of the implied verb “comment on” or whatever, not subjects of the verb. (I don’t know the term for this kind of construction when the verb is omitted and represented by the preposition.)

      1. Uh, they’re the subjects. I is correct.

      2. Well no. *”Noah Feldman and me comment on free speech, ‘hate speech,’ and more” would clearly be ungrammatical. But I think I would tend to parse a title like this as something akin to “[If You’re Interested, You Can] Listen to Noah Feldman and Meon Free Speech, ‘Hate Speech,’ and More”, which is why “I” struck me us unidiomatic.

  2. Jeepers, all y’all are forcing me to don my “grammar nazi” hat.

    “Noah Feldman and I” (compound subject) [comment?, speak? = “understood” verb] “on Free Speech” (If that’s a podcast blog title, then adverbial phrase describing where; if that’s the subject matter (e.g., “regarding), then prepositional phrase with “Free Speech” as the object of the preposition.
    Wha’d’ya’think?

  3. Wow, not the comments I’d expected! Here’s my understanding:

    1. Formally, “Noah Feldman and I on free speech” is correct; it is indeed a way of saying “Noah Feldman and I comment on free speech,” but Noah and I are subjects of that verb, not objects — we’re the ones commenting.

    2. One way of thinking about this: Would we say “I comment on …” or “Me comment on …”? “I,” because “I” is the subject (though we’d say “He comments on me …” or “He sees me …,” because there “me” is the object). Well, “I” is equally the subject in “Noah Feldman and I comment on …” and “Noah Feldman and I on ….”

    3. Perhaps, though, some people read the implied verb as “Watch,” so that the phrase is “Watch Noah Feldman and I [commenting] on ….” There, I think “I” would be quite unidiomatic, and “me” would have been the norm.

    4. On top of that, my sense is that “and me” is generally more common in modern colloquial English than “and I,” even as the subject. I’m more of a stickler here, so I’d say “Noah and I were talking” rather than “Noah and me were talking,” but my sense is that many people would prefer the latter. That may be why some folks found “Noah and I on …” jarring.

    In any event,

    1. That seems right if, as you say, the implied verb is “comment,” so I suppose if I had to assign an implied verb it would be “watch” or “are” (as in “Here are”).

      But does there have to be an implied verb? To my mind’s ear, “Prosser on Torts” sounds as an idiomatic standalone fragment. No implied verb. If there’s anything extra implied, I’d say it’s that Prosser is an object, not a subject. Yes, I know that begs the question. I’m just saying that’s how the idiom sounds to my mind’s ear.

      If we jettison Noah, would you have titled your post, “I on Free Speech”? I’ll absolutely take your word for it if you tell me that title would be correct, but I can’t express strongly enough how mind janglingly wrong it sounds. To me, anyway.

      1. Prosser [expounds] on Torts is how I’ve always constructed (in my mind) that sort of title. Or Prosser [gives an overview] on Torts.

        I do assume an implied verb, in other words.

        1. So you think “I on torts” would be correct?

          1. “I on Torts” would be grammatically correct, but I agree that it would be highly unidiomatic, and thus awkward-sounding. I wonder, though, whether that might be for semantic reasons (no-one would title a legal treatise using a pronoun in that context, whether it’s “I on Torts” or “Prosser and I on Torts” or “Prosser and Me on Torts”) rather than for syntactic ones.

            What do you think of this passage from a book I found when searching for this on Google Books?

            He was on the inside, then Sammy and I on the outside, with two runners coming up on us at the half mile.

            It’s a different sense of “on,” but it’s the same part of speech, so grammatically it seems structurally analogous to “Noah and I on free speech.”

            1. That one looks fine. And it may be structurally analogous to “Noah and I on free speech,” but the former sounds right to me, while the latter sounds all kinds of wrong. To be fair, I understand my complaint is subjective, thus unfalsifiable. But I don’t get why “I on torts” is unidiomatic, but not “Noah and I on free speech.”

            2. I certainly wasn’t trying to suggest that “X and I” followed by preposition is never correct.

              1. Hit submit before I was done…

                On the other hand,

                1. Taking Sammy out of the race, “He was on the inside, then I on the outside” is definitely not in my ideolect.

                2. Why is the title structurally similar to that sentence?

                3. What do you make of this quote from google books, which seems idiomatic to me?

                Mental pictures flashed like images in a slide show. Me blowing candles on my fifth birthday; my dad pushing me on a triumphantly successful glide when I was trying to learn to ride my shiny blue bike; my parents standing on either side of me, cap on my curly mess of a head the day I graduated from high school, my best friend, Julie , and me, holding up mugs of beers and smiling joyously the day I turned twenty-one; Howard and me on our perfectly sunny wedding day; me holding a newborn Callie in my arms; Bethany presenting me with her personal Mother-of the Year Award at her preschool Mother’s Day party; Amber beautifully costumed as Tinker Bell last Halloween…

                4. What about this one, which also seems idiomatic to me, despite clearly mixing subjective and objective cases in parallel constructions?

                Peter has a mania for crossword puzzles at the moment and hardly does anything else. I helped him with them and we soon sat opposite each other at his little table, he on the chair and me on the divan.

                1. 1. Oddly, the idiom for “X and [pronoun]” is a bit different than just for “pronoun.” To give an example going the other direction, “Jane and me went to the beach” is common enough (though it grates on me, perhaps because my first language is Russian, where I think you just absolutely positively wouldn’t say that), but “Me went to the beach” is highly unidiomatic.

                  2. “Sammy and I on the outside” means “Sammy and I [were] on the outside,” structurally similar to “Noah and I [comment] on free speech.”

                  3 & 4. I agree that the use of the accusative as a subject is often idiomatic in English, and indeed is sometimes more idiomatic than the “correct” nominative as subject.

                  3. But I think that, though “me holding a newborn Callie” is idiomatic in the sentence you gave, “me held a newborn Callie” (or “how me held a newborn Callie”) would be unidiomatic. That suggests that “me holding” might be parsed as something like “[I remembered] me holding a newborn Callie”; without that sort of implied verb that makes “me holding …” into a subject, “me” doesn’t work.

    2. But what if the missing verb is imperative?

      (Listen to) Noah Feldman and ME (comment) on hate speech.

      Listen to us discuss is proper, not listen to we discuss.

      1. 1. I appreciate that when there’s an elided verb, there is sometimes some uncertainty about just what is elided and where.

        2. The case of a pronoun (or, in other languages, of the noun) tends to signal that. The very fact that it’s “Noah and I on free speech” suggests that Noah and I are doing something, rather than my asking you to do something to Noah and me.

        3. My sense is that the default in a post title is the declarative mood (Noah and I comment on …) rather than the imperative (Watch Noah and me discuss …), partly because the declarative is the more polite version. It’s not that the imperative is always rude (e.g., “Tell us what you’ve been reading” wouldn’t be seen as a rude statement to readers), but it is by definition a bit more demanding, and thus not the default. But maybe I’m wrong here.

        1. Sorry for kicking a dead horse and/or being thick (probably both), but again, why is there necessarily an elided verb at all? I didn’t think titles were necessarily bound to the sentence form. Is there an implied full sentence title for War and Peace? Romeo and Juliet? Porkies?

          To me, “Noah Feldman and [Eugene Volokh] on Free Speech…” is short for “Noah Feldman’s and Eugene Volokh’s thoughts on free speech….” Full stop. Obviously others could see any number of alternatives. By no means am I saying the structural sentence analysis method of title deconstruction is wrong. I’m just asking if it’s mandatory.

          This may all be me working backwards from a gut conclusion, but as gut conclusions go it strikes me as noteworthy. It’s the first time in the fifteen years I’ve been reading VC that Eugene has written anything that sounds dissonant to my ear. If that’s just how long it took him to stumble on a usage of which I’m tonally ignorant, I’ll say thanks for the lesson learned.

          So once and for all, is it your opinion that “Noah and I on free speech” is idiomatically correct? Because I’m not sure you’ve come right out and said that yet. If you did and I missed it, well, like I said, I’m thick.

          1. I think “Noah and I on free speech” is within American idiom, even though it might not be the more common way of phrasing this (compared to, say, “Noah and me on free speech”). I’m not sure what the ratio would be, but I think both are idiomatic.

  4. Thanks.

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