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Coming to terms with 'myself'

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OCTOBER 13, 2015

In the world of grammar, people have their own pet peeves — and, without bias, I often say mine is the most misunderstood on the planet: “myself.”

A grammatical epidemic that has spread like wildfire from mouth to mouth, the misuse of reflexive pronouns is a verbal one, making it hard to treat and even harder to spell check. Reflexive pronouns — myself, yourself, themselves, etc. — are cool because they’re hybrids: They’re used when the subject and the object are really the same thing. “I bathed myself” is a good example; “Mikaela wrote about herself” works, too.

This does not mean, however, that reflexive pronouns can take advantage of their hybrid qualities: They can’t replace subjects or objects on their own. We’ve all heard it before, from your boss saying, “Mikaela, Luke and myself were the only three people at the meeting” (myself is being used as a subject here) to an email reading, “Please reach the prime minister, Mr. Moose, or myself with any further questions” (myself as an object). Sadly, the frequency of this misusage (or the fact that you can’t sass your boss) doesn’t make it any more grammatically correct.

Though I used to shake my head at such an abuse of the reflexive, I’ve learned to accept the fact that it won’t be going away soon. Having worked an internship in human resources two summers ago, I’ve realized that this flexible substitute for “me” or “I” has been embraced by the professional world as a poshed-up polish to any sentence. Say the examples above out loud (to yourself) — they do sound just a tad more formal, don’t they?

Unlike more glaring grammatical mistakes — such as “you’re/your” or “there/their/they’re,” which are usually made because a) people are careless and b) the words are homonyms — the misuse of reflexive pronouns is made unknowingly in daily speech and may very well fold itself into the ever-evolving English language. I’m coming close to even excusing the common conversational error. After all, it’s true that the English language doesn’t have a formal set of subject or object pronouns like many other languages do.

So when the server at a restaurant turns to me dashingly and asks, “And yourself?” before taking my order, I might even smile back — but it won’t stop me from declaring that I’m eating this cheeseburger all by myself.

Contact Mikaela Luke at [email protected].

OCTOBER 12, 2015

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