I had never heard the Country (Red Dirt) singer Wade Bowen before, although his latest album Hold my Beer (Vol 1) has already sold 14,000 copies. On an earlier album, he provided textbook examples of two constructions that I find increasingly annoying, and one that seems fine.
‘I love it that you’re my girl,’ sang Wade. ‘I love that I’m your man.’ I didn’t care for either of those declarations one bit. ‘I love it when you take my hand,’ he added. I didn’t mind that at all.
This business of I love that… is on the rise. I heard Fi Glover say it on Radio 4, and someone in one of those rather unsatisfactory internet discussions about grammar wrote, quite spontaneously: ‘Jane, I love that you mention how English is a living language.’
You and I, I take it, would say, ‘Jane, I love you mentioning’, or, if we felt that mentioning was a good, solid, beefy gerund, we might make it, ‘Jane, I love your mentioning’. Thus we’d reach for a noun or the equivalent as the object of the verb love. ‘Beggars love brawling,/ And wretches love wrawling,’ as it says in A Mery and Pleasant Prognostication, a book from the 1570s which doesn’t sound all that mery. An alternative would be to make the object of love an infinitive: Beggars love to brawl.
This same appetite for a noun or pronoun as object for the verb love gives rise to Mr Bowen’s alternative: ‘I love it that you’re my girl.’ This is halfway to orthodoxy, for it is quite idiomatic to say: ‘I love it when you smile.’ Another way of supplying a noun as object is to insert the fact: ‘I love the fact that you’re my girl.’
The use of a ‘that’ clause as an object is, I must admit, recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary from the 18th century. The earliest example smells foreign: ‘ I love that Erastus should thus love me.’ It translates Molière’s ‘aimé-je fort qu’Éraste m’aime.’ In the 21st century the construction has become part of a native speaker’s repertoire. Foreign students of English are assured that it is valid. Perhaps it is becoming so, but it makes me squirm.