Post Your Opinion
The Myself Generation
by I. M. Owen

ME, MYSELF, AND I: We are all disappointed, and none more than myself 'Me use of myself for I or me must be a fairly recent genteelism; it isn't mentioned in Fowler's Modern English Usage. But Gowers in his revision of Fowler gives it a glancing blow; Collins says that "careful users of English" don't do it; and the members of the American Heritage Usage Panel get violent about it: "a prissy evasion ... the refuge of idiots taught early that me is a dirty word." Yet in a single day recently I had to try to rescue two distinguished writers, both of them careful and neither of them an idiot, from committing the offence. (I succeeded with one of them.)

When Henry Bradley was working on the M section of the OED from 1904 to 1908 he could regard this usage as a thing of the past. Myself for I was "now only poetic" ? that is, used in metric verse when two syllables rather than one were needed (Myself when young did eagerly frequent ... ); myself for me was "now archaic" except in an enumeration, as when the fasinating but awkward writer George Borrow said: Several of the ultra?popish bishops ... had denounced the Bible, the Bible Society, and myself. The OED says that myself is "commonly preferred" in this position. I don't prefer it myself ? and there you have an example of one of the legitimate uses of myself and the other ?self words: for emphasis, in apposition with the main pronoun (I myself heard him say it,? he himself has said it). Another is the use as a noun meaning "I in my normal state": I'm not myself this morning.

But the commonest legitimate use is as a reflexive pronoun, that is as the object of a verb or preposition when the subject of the sentence is P I forgot myself, I did it by myself

The modern misuse certainly originates mostly in a feeling that the first person singular pronoun is not quite nice. (I've known several Englishmen who avoid it by saying one instead, and succeed only in sounding more self?conscious, not less.) It may also come partly from being corrected in childhood for saying I for me and me for I; those who use myself evade having to make the choice. Yet these same people don't seem to have the same trouble with. she / her, he / him, they / them, which have exactly the same relationship to each other.

Finally, what about it's me? While it's I is obviously correct, it sounds pedantic and unnatural. I have a notion, not borne out by any authority that I know of, that me here is a different word, coming from French moi; the phrase in French is invariably c'est moi, never c'est je. Is there a linguistics expert, out there who can confirm or deny this derivation?

NUMBER: I talked about this in the October issue: if the subject of a clause consists of two words linked by and the verb must obviously be in the plural. Straightforward enough, you'd think. But my morning was ruined the other day by an editor who phoned to ask about a sentence running something like this: Every beast of the field and every fowl of the air was brought by the Lord God before him. Under the rule stated above it's clearly wrong. Yet it sounds right, and if you change was to were it sounds wrong because you're saying every bird ... were; it offends against my second criterion of good writing, grace. Off the cuff, I suggested making both nouns plural ?All the beasts and all the fowl. My friend didn't like that, and I had to agree: somehow it lacks the nearly scriptural dignity of the original. I had written that last sentence, and was going to throw up my hands and ask for readers' help, when the solution came to me: Every beast of the field was brought by the Lord God before him, and every fowl of the air. This way, the sentence is made into two clauses, with the predicate of the second one omitted as being understood. There you have both grace and correctness.

MINDFUL: Rick Groen, writing in the Globe and Mail about the appointment of Allan Gotlieb as chairman of the Canada Council, said: Arts advocacy groups, perhaps mindful of biting the hand that feeds them, have assumed a posture of guarded optimism toward the appointment. Averting our eyes from their ungainly posture because I dealt with phrases like guarded optimism in the December issue, let's look at mindful. The word means "taking thought or care Of, heedful of keeping remembrance of' (OEDY) So Groen's groups are either being careful to go on biting the hand that feeds them or cherishing. happy memories of doing so. The word he was looking for, I think, was wary The confusion arises from one of the meanings of the verb to mind, "to be careful about," as in? mind your Ps and Qs. It can also, in fact, mean "to be wary," but only, in modem English, in the imperative: mind the step, mind you don't forget.

RACK/WRACK: It was a nerve?wracking experience. He wracked up an impressive score. The phrases intended here are nerveracking and racked up. As a verb, wrack is archaic and means "wreck or cause to be wrecked." The basic meaning of rack is "framework," and the reference in nerveracking is to the instrument of torture.

This is a curious mistake to make, since wrack (which is closely related to wreck) is a rare word in modern English, familiar only in the phrase wrack and ruin, and perhaps in the couplet uttered by Macbeth as he goes forth to his last battle: Ring the alarum bell, blow wind, come wrack. At least we'll die with harness on our back.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us