Ungentlemanly English

A gentleman is someone who knows how to play the accordion but doesn’t. Gentlemanly English is when you can read Martin Amis without resorting to a dictionary, but people are unaware of this fact when they read your own writing. Gentlemanly English is when you have a knighthood and a seat in the Lords, but you sign your correspondence “Bob”.

Recently Pash has been collecting grammatical hates. I’m a pedant too, but I don’t mind slip-ups much when the slipper-up is not a native speaker or was crippled in childhood by being forced to attend a school where shuffling tabloid clichés creative writing was prized over correct writing. It’s when people make mistakes because they are showing off that I lose my temper.

Right now, the mistake that has me kicking my splashproof radio out of the bathroom is freakin’ reflexive pronoun abuse. It embodies its own awfulness. The reflexive takes a short word that refers to you personally—“I” or “me”—and turns it into a long word. It’s bigging yourself up with letters. It’s like adding “MA (Oxon)” to your name. It says something about you, but probably not what you hoped.

Check out this random collection of perpetrators [please take the sics as read]:

Clare Short:

Neither myself nor the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State attended the Brit awards.

Ken Livingstone:

Myself, the Cuban Ambassador and Pedro Ross met briefly a few moments ago…

Charles Clarke:

People behaved, including myself, in ways that were probably not in the best and most advised ways.

George Galloway:

It is to the credit of Labour that it took nearly a hundred years for its body and soul to be captured so that it could start to expel radicals such as myself…

[If you think there’s any chance I’m going to link to Galloway’s Website and the page this comes from then you’ve really not being paying attention.]

20 Comments

  1. Posted 18Oct06 at 12:34 | Permalink

    And choosing not to use MA (Cantab) as your example says… but let’s not go there again. Anyway, I’ve been roundly abused for using MA (Oxon) online, so who am I to judge.

    I note that the BBC article thinks “real” Masters degrees only take one year – but don’t most of them take two?

  2. Posted 18Oct06 at 15:26 | Permalink

    Most Master’s degrees do take two years, but most British ones take one.

  3. dearieme
    Posted 18Oct06 at 16:45 | Permalink

    It all comes from allowing people to get off with mocking Her Maj for saying “My husband and I..”. We should have told them that they were ignorant pillocks.

  4. Posted 18Oct06 at 17:29 | Permalink

    For some time now, my response has been

    “Why don’t yourself learn to speak yourself’s own language?”

    (Needless to say, that’s “response” as in “muttered under my breath later” or “posted on someone’s blog”.)

  5. Posted 18Oct06 at 20:44 | Permalink

    Surely “yourself” abuse is worse in almost all cases: [ingratiating recruitment “consultant”] “Would that role be of interest to yourself?”
    These people need to be stopped.

  6. Posted 19Oct06 at 10:06 | Permalink

    This is a pet hate of mine. In my office I hear, constantly, “So I thought I would offer that to yourselves…”, “If you could respond to myself as quickly as possible….”

    And @dearieme, I refer to ‘my wife and I’ and ‘my colleagues and I’ etc. etc., having been taught as a child that this was the correct usage – it’s so ingrained in me now, sorry, so ingrained in myself now, that anything else just sounds plain wrong – doesn’t stop everybody else taking the piss out of me though.

  7. Asher
    Posted 19Oct06 at 17:53 | Permalink

    A person’s self isn’t a person’s only part. It would be funny if everyone saying or writing “myself” meant “my self.”
    Man: “She and myself went to the park and played.”
    Man’s friend: “Oh you did, did you? And where exactly were you while she was playing with your self?”

  8. The Asher
    Posted 19Oct06 at 21:12 | Permalink

    Another way to big oneself up:

    http://www.tv.com/seinfeld/the-jimmy/episode/2345/summary.html

  9. stubby
    Posted 20Oct06 at 16:28 | Permalink

    Oh, I hate the Pretentious Incorrect Myself. What especially grates is when people use “myself” for emphasis, as in “I myself have seen him do it!” It’s just stupid.

    Another pretentious and incorrect usage for emphasis is “literally”, but that’s literally another subject.

  10. Posted 20Oct06 at 19:30 | Permalink

    At the risk of provoking a torrent of abuse towards… erm… me and possibly even myself, how should the following sentence have been phrased?

    “People behaved, including myself, in ways that were probably not in the best and most advised ways.”

    Is there something to substitute ‘myself’ for, or does the whole thing need to be changed to:-

    “People, including I, have behaved…” Does that sound right?

  11. Posted 20Oct06 at 22:47 | Permalink

    At the risk of provoking a torrent of abuse towards—erm—me and possibly even myself, how should the following sentence have been phrased?

    People behaved, including myself, in ways that were probably not in the best and most advised ways.

    “I behaved badly—and I wasn’t the only one.”

    (Note that the original version of the “apology” begins in the third person plural.)

    Why do so many people find it so difficult to speak and write plainly? Because they fear that if their words are simple they will be thought of as being “simple”; because if people understand your claims they are more likely to challenge them; because simple words make it harder to mislead or lie.

    If you have faith in your abilities then you don’t need fancy words. If you understand your arguments well enough to express them clearly then you are more likely to persuade others. If you are telling the truth then you don’t need to dress it up.

  12. Phil A
    Posted 22Oct06 at 13:56 | Permalink

    Re: the “My Husband and I” controversy.

    I think the way it works is that if it is appropriate to use “I” in a sentance if it was just singular then it is ok to use “My husband and I” if you are a female refering to both of you. i.e. “My husband and I both enjoy reading PooterGeek’s excellent blog”.

    If “me” is correct then it should be “My husband and me.”

  13. tjwood
    Posted 26Oct06 at 09:27 | Permalink

    When to use “I” and when “me” is simply determined by removing the other party from the sentence and seeing what sounds correct. The order (who comes first) does not make any difference to the grammatical correctness.

    All these are correct:

    “My wife and I went to McDonalds for dinner.”
    “I and my wife went to McDonalds for dinner.”
    “I went to McDonalds for dinner.”

    “The barman offered to buy me and my wife a drink.”
    “The barman offered to buy me a drink.”

    Whereas, you wouldn’t say “Me went to McDonalds” or “The barman offered to buy I a drink”.

  14. Simon Brandon
    Posted 10Nov06 at 13:45 | Permalink

    I am irritated every day by people responding to me asking how they are with “I’m fine, how about yourself?” It is just evolution of the English language, just as the expression “for free” is now accepted as correct English. Given that leading politicians, BBC reporters/newsreaders and teachers are making these errors, we really ought to accept them as changes to the language. How can you stop this happening to a generation that develop language habits from Big Brother, East End football managers and So Solid Crew? If you want to converse with people who speak English “proper” then it’s best to leave the UK and try in Europe – they are “well educated innit?” I am really paranoid that I have got something wrong in this comment…

  15. Marilyn Crosbie
    Posted 16Nov06 at 23:28 | Permalink

    The yourself/myself habit drives me crazy too. I type letters for doctors and most of them use yourself/myself incorrectly all the time. What do they teach them in school and how do they get into medical school when they cannot speak correct English? This is in Canada and these are people with English as their native tongue.

  16. J Mulcare
    Posted 01Dec06 at 11:23 | Permalink

    Oh I am so thankful that I found this site. I was on the verge of losing my mind with all the abuse of reflexive pronouns.

    I am sitting opposite a native speaker who just finished a telephone conversation, which included “Do I get that from my midwife or yourselves?”.

    I grew up in the British Virgin Islands (many years ago) where I had great English teachers (most of whom were from Britain or studied in Britain). Later on I went to study and live in the US where I was routinely made fun of because I spoke “properly” and my pronunciation was “too precise” and not to mention “incorrect”.
    It didn’t take me a long time to figure out that Americans were more comfortable if I spoke their brand of English.

    For some reason, I didn’t expect the same thing to be common when I came to live in London. I am sometimes horrified with all the abuses I hear – generally form people who think they’re being quite clever.

    I shy away from offering corrections because with my slightly American influenced Caribbean accent I am likely to be told that Americans don’t know how to speak English.

  17. Jelliott
    Posted 09Dec10 at 15:41 | Permalink

    I teach English to teenagers in an FE college, and they don’t seem to abuse the reflexive pronoun very much at all in their natural speech. They are too direct. Reflexive pronoun abuse seems to be settling in as a kind of misconceived politeness. Very Interestingly, when we were doing a role play around telephone manner in a ‘functional skills’ English session, they started doing it! All the “I myself would like to meet with yourselves to see how we can help your boss herself” stuff! They hear it from receptionists, telesales workers etc and think it is appropriate for the workplace. Hmmm.

  18. Jelliott
    Posted 09Dec10 at 15:50 | Permalink

    Incidentally, I found this website in a Google search for “over use of reflexive pronoun”. It’s lovely to know there are more of our selves out there.

  19. Matt Hilton
    Posted 22Oct11 at 10:48 | Permalink

    I didn’t know what to expect when I Googled reflexive pronoun abuse. I’m afraid this problem is here to stay. I teach a freshman level composition class, and spend many days cringing as the administrators at my school drop inappropriate “myself” bombs on a seemingly daily basis.
    The confusion of objective/subjective ‘I” -“me” now seems much less annoying.

  20. e
    Posted 20Sep12 at 14:11 | Permalink

    @incitatus The replacement is ‘ME’!!! People behaved, including me, in ways that were probably not in the best and most advised ways.

    OR ‘me included’ OR ‘and I include myself in this’

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] I spent a good hour or so today re-energising my reading list. My plan is to eventually be reading every British blog that is worth reading, if that is possible. At the moment I am reading through the past month or so of posts from the new blogs and a post on PooterGeek about reflexive pronoun abuse stood out for me. […]

  2. By Flocking Hell – PooterGeek on 28Apr10 at 20:52

    […] Many of them have legitimate concerns that they feel are not being addressed by ourselves in the mainstream parties. We need to go away and think about […]

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