One reason the young man didn’t immediately see his “me and Jimmy” construction as such a big deal was that it’s currently slang for his age group and younger. This was one small, but significant, leap into adulthood that the young man hadn’t yet made. I explained to him that, if he was going to break his habit, he’d have to give it up completely, not just selectively; he couldn’t talk one way at work and then start using “me and Jimmy” on the weekends with his friends. I analogized: when I quit smoking, I had to do it across the board, absolutely and definitively. I couldn’t quit at home and at work and then sneak even one smoke at a bar. Especially tenacious habits like ours, I said, are very difficult to break.
The young man said he understood what I was asking of him and agreed to my terms. He would attempt to give up “me and Jimmy”—nicotine—completely.
I next asked him if he understood the grammatical principle at play—that me is an objective, rather than a subjective, pronoun. If you said, “me will take care of that matter later today,” you’ll more readily hear the error. Not surprisingly, the young man got the grammatical issue easily: here again, he was revealing his difficulty with an entrenched habit, not with an intellectual concept.
Next, I told him that I thought he could break the habit if he had some way to signal to himself that he was making or about to make a mistake of the “me and Jimmy” sort. I explained how, when my sons were younger and made statements like “me and Taylor just got home from school,” I would invariably respond, “Whoooo?” My voice would rise comically at the end. They would repeat, “me and Taylor . . . .” Again, I’d ask, “Whoooo?” After the second or third time, they got it, chuckled, and rephrased correctly. It was a good-natured, fun way of helping them learn adult-speak.
The young man saw what I was getting at and concurred that he should find a similar sort of alarm that would go off as needed. We acknowledged that his added challenge was having to perform this little service for himself. But we thought his boss could probably help. Accordingly, I got back to the boss, apprised him of the plan, and learned that he was already helping the young man by slipping him a small, pink piece of paper if he misspoke. Depending upon how ominously one took the “pink slip” symbolism, this gesture could be a rather amusing reinforcement of good grammatical practice, on the order of “Whoooo?”
Just the other day, about six weeks after the young man’s “therapy,” I wrote the boss to find out how things were going. “I haven’t heard the dreaded construction yet in 2015,” the boss replied. “I’m pleased to say I hadn’t thought about it in several weeks.” A habit, good or bad, might be defined as something learned that you no longer think about. In this case, a bad habit was replaced by a good one.