A correspondent, in the form of BBC Three Counties Radio, phones to ask one of the strangest questions I've had for some time. What do I make of a Paul McCartney line from the song 'Live and Let Die'? Apparently there's some discussion going on at the moment about whether the line is the world in which we live in or the world in which we're livin'. When asked recently, Paul himself couldn't recall which it was, though he thought the first of these versions 'wronger but cuter'. What did I think?
No question, as far as I'm concerned. It's the world in which we live in. Apart from the fact that this is the version in the published sheet music, I wouldn't expect a Scouser to reduce an -ing ending to -in. On the contrary, -ing is often said with the -g sounded as well, in that part of the world. While it's always possible to 'drop the g' in rapid colloquial speech, as it is in any accent, this is unlikely in the more forceful articulation of a song whose beat is relatively slow. I don't recall other Beatles songs with -ing endings - such as 'All My Loving' - reducing the final consonant.
Why did the issue arise at all? Presumably because some people couldn't tolerate the thought that such an ungrammatical construction was being used. Certainly it's ungrammatical; but it's not unnatural. That kind of prepositional doubling is common enough in speech when people start to use one construction and switch into another, especially when the construction involved (as here) is a usage shibboleth. Should one end a sentence with a preposition? Here we see that hoary issue in the choice between the world in which we live and the world we live in. People who have been sensitized to the issue are likely to begin with the first and then, when they reach the end of the sentence, realize that they need a preposition to make the sentence sound natural. Another example I heard recently is: I don't know to which hotel I'm going to. We've talked about anacoluthon before, in this blog, and here's another instance.
In the case of the song, the rhythm of the piece asks for unstressed syllables at both ends - imagine how it would sound if the line ended on live, with an elongated vowel - and that is what we get. Wronger and cuter it certainly is. When music calls, grammar bends.