Beside Myself

I haven’t ranted about the decline of the English language in quite a while, but I do find myself vexed almost to the point of irritability by a particularly gruesome verbal tic that seems more and more in fashion. I refer, of course, to the increasingly common use of the word “myself” as a nonreflexive pronoun. You hear it all the time lately, in sentences like:

    “The director has asked Zoltan and myself to oversee the completion of the TPS reports.”

    “Readers may direct comments either to Wally Stunkard or myself.”

This is an abomination. You don’t give something to “myself”, I do. You give something to me. The purpose of a reflexive pronoun is to serve as the object on occasions when the subject and object are the same, as in:

     “After I had dealt with Carol and her lover, I turned the blowtorch on myself.”

    “I decided to treat myself to an evening of gangsta rap and a large bowl of offal.”

I realize that there is a great deal of suffering in the world, and that perhaps we have more pressing matters to grieve us. But this sort of thing really drives myself up the wall.

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  1. Do you hold by ‘hopefully’, ‘thankfully’, and ‘gratefully’ where they qualify the utterer of the sentence rather than the verb. It makes nonsense of “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour”.(Stevenson, El Dorado) Yes the comma separating out ‘hopefully’ may tell you where it is pointed. What are we to make of this in the Guardian leader on Sat.

    “Tony Blair is well aware of the battle lines in Washington and, hopefully, will keep this at the top of his mind during the crisis.” Both Tony B. and the writer will hope as indeed I will also.

    You write yourself – ” certainly our own humble abode has appreciated gratifyingly since we took it over many years ago.” Did you feel the pressure of ” has, gratifyingly, appreciated since”.. urging you to solecism? Am I going mad? These worries if brought to the attention of Johnson might draw from him the comment – ‘Sir, there is no rule here, it is a matter of taste’..

    Posted April 1, 2007 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Quite right you are, Michael, that the language is a flowing stream, and the waters are often murky. When shall we resist the current, and when ought we to accede graciously to the inevitability of change?

    I’ll admit to being rather a mossback regarding these matters, and confess that when the train conductor says “we hope to be moving momentarily” I silently chide him and his anonymous co-hopers for their wishing merely, and insufficiently, that the train will roll for an instant and then stop again. I suppose that ultimately we must trust our own sense of correctness, and raise an alarm when something is simply too jarringly awful, too grating, too indigestibly wrong to pass by in silence. The rampant misappropriation of the reflexive pronoun bemoaned above rises, I think, to that level.

    In the example you cite, however, the house did indeed appreciate gratifyingly: I am gratified in no small measure by the enhancement of its value, which will be the prop of my dotage.

    Posted April 1, 2007 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm, you have opened the door to the room with a bricked-up window. Dark forces will be released. In the matter of reflexive pronouns it is to be observed that the same form has a emphasizing aspect; eg. ‘for he himself has said it that it’s greatly to his credit’. The emphasizing pronoun is usually in apposition to the noun. Now it is the emphasizing aspect that comes into force in such expressions ‘Give the report to Jack or myself’ (and to no one else ?).

    These are the things that fox computers, what Dennett called the form problem or the whole world of common sense and reticulated meaning.

    By the way it’s the same here with property. We were lucky to get in under the boom but the effect for society as a whole must be negative as the lending institutions become more densified with accumulated capital and act like black holes.

    Posted April 2, 2007 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Michael, thanks for your careful attention to this important matter.

    You are right that the same pronoun form is used for emphasis in the way you describe, but what you refer to is not a reflexive pronoun at all, but is rather an intensive pronoun; such words are used to emphasize their immediate antecedent; as you say, apposition is critical in such cases. A sentence such as “You may apply the lotion either to Akiko or myself” does not satisfy the necessary conditions.

    I know an abomination when I see one.

    You raise an interesting point regarding lending institutions, but one that is beyond the modest scope of this post.

    Posted April 2, 2007 at 10:28 am | Permalink