Them’s Need It Told

One of the great things about blogging is that there is no deadline and no need for second drafts. Another great thing about blogging is that you can do it at 2 in the morning and justify it as “I’ve had a productive day, so f*** it.” A third great thing is that you don’t technically need to be aware of all of the facts: you can just blag it, of course, or you could appeal to your readership. This post kind of suits all of those.

I was listening to a song today that is incredibly chauvinistic, misogynistic, sexist, and generally downright rude, but it’s damn catchy and I like it despite my feminist’s conscience screaming in pain. I am talking about Calvin Harris’ “The Girls“. As I was walking along singing to myself under my breath in case anyone heard me, I noticed a strange construction:

I like them [ x ] girls.

As in, “I like them tall girls.” Calvin replaces the adjective with various ones I won’t bore you with. But where did this use of ‘them’ come from? I always learned them as the accusative plural pronoun – “I saw them,” for instance. After talking it over with my mate Sam Carter of Philsoc, we decided it probably originated as two separate intonational clauses: “I like them. The tall girls.” Over time, this might have gotten shortened to “I like them tall girls”, when ‘them’ began to take on a demonstrative property, as in ‘those’. This might also explain another dialectical variation from the US that I noticed in the show Firefly:

…Bring the good word to them’s need it told.

That’s just cool! A use of ‘them’ that has been fused with the relative pronoun and the subordinator, all in one. It should be “bring the good word to them who need it”, where ‘who’ is a fused relative.

What do you all think? Also, suffice to say, I am going to use them new constructions whenevs I can, because they’re shiny. Yes.

6 comments on “Them’s Need It Told

  1. Christopher on said:

    ‘Them’ as a demonstrative instead of ‘those’ is very common in vernacular Manx English. My Nanna says it all the time. Even I find myself saying it sometimes. I think it is probably very common in European English in general.

  2. Christopher on said:

    Just looked in the OED. It says under ‘them':

    III.
    5. As demonstrative determiner = those pron. and adj. Now only dial. or illiterate.
    a. Qualifying an objective (direct or indirect). Also strengthened by adding there (‘ere, air).

    The earliest citation is from a version of the Bible (!) from the 16th century:

    1596 H. Clapham Briefe of Bible ii. 92 To Samaria, and them partes.

  3. richard on said:

    Fascinating! I should have checked that. Good catch!

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