The tickets – do you have em? I don’t have them, but I do have money

Lots of people think the em of “I hid them” > “I hid ‘em” is a contraction, which it is not even though the em is conventionally written with an apostrophe as if it were (so much for using past language as a guide). They go further, as they do with most contractions, and regard it as an example of “slovenly” speech. In reality, it is a them and em are separate words with different origins, em from Old English and them from Old Norse (one of the not so many examples of languages borrowing function words and words in a closed paradigm from other languages). Gradually, them and em were deployed in the strong form/weak form pattern of English, with them beingused in accented sentence position and em for everything else, except that school marm English insists on them in all positions in formal speech, thus displaying the supreme though well-meaning ignorance of the school marms.

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