Thursday, 31 October 2013

Please excuse my writing... Olly Murs vs. 'The Guardian'

It is not often that I find myself contemplating the lyrics of Olly Murs, but listening to the radio in the car this week I was struck by the words to his song 'Dear Darlin'':

Dear darlin’, please excuse my writing.
I can’t stop my hands from shaking
'Cause I’m cold and alone tonight.

I miss you and nothing hurts like no you.
And no one understands what we went through.
It was short. It was sweet. We tried.

This, for me, is a great reason to argue for the efficacy of the gerund, in opposition to what Guardian Style Guide author David Marsh has argued in a recent article:

'A gerund is a verb ending in -ing that acts as a noun: I like swimming, smoking is bad for you, and so on. The tricky bit is when someone tells you about the rule that, as with other nouns, you have to use a possessive pronoun – "she objected to my swimming". Most normal people say "she objected to me swimming" so I wouldn't worry about this. You rarely see the possessive form in newspapers, for example. Announcing "I trust too much in my team's being able to string a few wins together" sounds pompous.'

[A salient commentator noted, in fact, that 'she objected to my swimming' is quite different from 'she objected to me swimming' because the emphasis on the former is on my: perhaps it is the way s/he is swimming, or the fact that s/he is swimming at all, which offends.]

Anyway, back to Olly. For me, 'please excuse my writing' is more beautiful and effective than 'please excuse me writing' -- and far from pompous -- because it emphasises the fact that the writer has taken the decision to affect another person (his ex-lover) with what he has written. It is his (my) decision to write to her; and it is up to her to excuse (t)his decision. The possessive emphasis of 'my', therefore, resounds through the subsequent pronouns in the story -- 'my', 'I', 'you' -- and confers, ultimately, upon the 'we' of last two lines ('no one understands what we went through. / It was short. It was sweet. We tried.'). And this intimacy is further reinforced by the sudden use of the (neuter) pronoun 'It': whatever 'it' is will only ever be known by them; and the poignancy that this is now lost is felt all the deeper. For me, the pathos of this situation begins with this first, delicate pairing of possessive and gerund ('Please excuse my writing...').

David Marsh has titled his article '10 Grammar Rules You Can Forget'. Of course, with 'Please excuse my writing' Murs could just mean the appearance of his writing (his hands are shaking after all, and he is cold); yet in the wider context of the song and video, in which very little in fact gets written, the 'writing' becomes a symbol for a desired communication that never quite gets through. In that case, I'm glad Olly Murs didn't forget this 'rule'. Rather than a rule, it feels like a gift.


No comments:

Post a Comment