In the Christmas song "I Wonder as I Wander", the lyrics say:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on'ry people like you and like I

It seems to me, though, that "like" here is a preposition--so shouldn't that mean that it should say "like me", not "like I"?

Am I missing a rule of English here, or is it just a breaking-the-rules-for-poetry thing?

  • Now I'm curious as to what on'ry means... – JAM Jan 6 '14 at 20:16
  • 1
    @JAM - Probably "ordinary". However, that dialect has the wonderful world ornery, which means "stubborn" (affectionately). According to wicktionary, the latter Appalachian word traces its etymology back to the former. Given this song's odd history (see my answer below), it is tough to tell exactly which was intended (and by whom). Perhaps even a combination of both. – T.E.D. Jan 6 '14 at 20:55
  • 3
    @Jam: See earlier question - Meaning of a contraction, “on'ry,” in I wonder as I wander" – FumbleFingers Jan 6 '14 at 21:55
  • Er, "under sky" and "like I". I don't think "like me" would work here. Though, usage "like you and I" (like "between you and I") would be grammatical standard English. – F.E. Jan 6 '14 at 21:58
  • @FumbleFingers - Interesting coincidence that it is so recent. I've made my point about the word there now. – T.E.D. Jan 6 '14 at 22:07

I agree completely with JAM's answer.

However, there is one fundamental misunderstanding I see in your question: You are attempting to apply the standard rules of English grammar to a dialect which does not necessarily abide by all of them.

Supposedly this song was transcribed by John Jacob Niles from a song sung by the daughter of an itinerant preacher in the extreme western part of North Carolina in 1933. Assuming the preacher in question mostly stuck to his dialect area, this would make the original author a speaker of Appalachian English

This is probably the lowest prestige English dialect found in the USA. About the only place you will find it in popular media is in Bluegrass music. Many English speakers have severe trouble understanding it in spoken form. So if you go looking through an AE song for "wrong" usages of English, you are likely to find yourself in a target-rich environment.

That being said, I can't find anything about unusual uses of "I" as a direct object in that dialect (in fact, I think AE is more likely to unexpectedly substitute "me" for "I", rather than the other way around). Most likely, as JAM said, this was just done to make that one line rhyme.

  • Your point of applying rules of "correct" English is well taken. – Kate Bertelsen Jan 6 '14 at 22:59

Of course it should be 'like me' - you are absolutely right. They just wrote it as the incorrect 'I' to rhyme with sky. This is probably a case of poetic licence.

  • While I do not go so far as some anti-prescriptivists on this site, your Of course ... and incorrect are a bit didactic in light of your recognition of the poesy. – bib Jan 6 '14 at 20:03
  • Hi @bib! I do agree with you, but I could never have persuaded my primary school teacher that 'I' was acceptable in a similar sentence of my own composition. – JAM Jan 6 '14 at 20:11
  • Maybe if it was in iambic pentameter ... ? – bib Jan 6 '14 at 20:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.