The Armchair Grammarian

This Week:The Tonto Rule Explained

A lot of people seem to have trouble, when they are telling a story in the first person, in sorting out the subject and object cases in their sentences. There's a lot of "me and he" "him and I" "they and myself" "her and that other guy who is me" going on and this results in some confusion. It's sad really because there is a very simple way of telling right from grammatically wrong in these types of sentences. It's something referred to as the "Tonto Rule".

The Tonto Rule is, of course, named after that beloved aboriginal stereotype, the Lone Ranger's "sidekick", Tonto. The rule is this: If, when you remove one of the pronouns from the sentence, you begin to sound like Tonto then you have made a mistake.

An example: "Him and me went to the store" becomes "Him went to the store" or "me went to the store" both of which seem like ham-fisted dialogue straight out of the Lone Ranger. See what I mean? What could be easier as a test?

What a lot of people don't know is that Jay Silverheels (Harold Smith), the actor who played Tonto, had an impeccable grasp of English grammar and was often infuriated at the gibberish that he was forced to mouth as Tonto. Why screenwriters at the time thought that dangling participles, mishandled subordinate clauses and case and tense errors would make Silverheels more believable as an "Indian" (which he was) is truly beyond me. Add it to the list of indignities I guess.

On the other hand Ron Ely, famed portrayer of Tarzan, was well known for his atrocious grammar (and appalling table manners). In fact, bad grammar makes a lot more sense as a personal attribute for that character than it does for Tonto. After all, Tarzan was allegedly raised by a group of chimps and they are, as you no doubt know, renowned for their poor syntax. Perhaps this grammatical rule should really be known as the "Tarzan Rule". Who's with me?

Next time: there, their and they're

Leonard Derwerthy

Check out The Fire Plume audio recording by Jay Silverheels if you want to hear what he really sounded like.