When I was a child, my mother frequently described self-centered people as thinking of only “me, myself, and I.” This week, I found myself wishing more people would spend time thinking about these three words.
I was getting ready for work one morning and had the television tuned to a news station, “half-listening” while I did mindless tasks, to see if anything worth paying attention to had happened. As usual, it was a lot of political blathering. Then what felt like the last straw: a reporter asked a question of a congresswoman and was answered with “I really wish (Mr. X) had asked George or myself before ……” This misuse of “myself” has been irritating me more and more lately. I am beginning to think that the pronouns “I” and “me” have been dropped from the language.
I try not to let the more common grammatical errors we hear in speech get to me. The curmudgeon in me wants to require that everyone take a refresher course (or for some, it seems, a primary one) in basic grammar. But I take a deep breath, tell myself I can’t change the world, and brush off the annoyance. Sometimes I even laugh. A recurring radio ad for Mama Mancini’s meatballs starts: “Unlike other meatballs made with (long list of inferior ingredients), my grandmother always said…” I think about what would have happened to me if I had ever called my grandmother a meatball.
For some reason I do not brush off this constant use of “myself” as easily. It seems to be taking over and obliterating the shorter first person pronouns. The incorrect usage occurs most often when there is a compound subject or a compound object. The easy way to determine the correct form of the first person pronoun is to remove the other party. “George and myself” or “George and I” went to the store? Remove George. “I went to the store.” “The car hit Mary and myself” or “The car hit Mary and me”? Mary jumped faster. “The car hit me.”
I first noticed this incorrect usage several years ago in “man on the street” interviews. “My friend and myself were walking past the house when we heard a shot.” Since then it has crept into everyday language and is now being used by politicians and the blathering pundits. Soon, if it has not already, it will become accepted usage. And my ranting won’t stop it. But rant I will.
Why do people want to use a longer word when a shorter one will do? I think there is certain grandiosity involved. For those early passersby getting a chance to be seen on TV, it was probably an attempt to sound sophisticated. As the misuse of “myself” moved up the social ladder, it fed the narcissism so prevalent in today’s world. After all, the correct use of “myself” is reflexive, when the speaker is both subject and object (“I see myself in the mirror”), or intensive (“I made it myself”). Lots of focus on the self there. Why not expand that focus on “myself” to more situations? I am reminded of my Irish family’s use of “Himself” to refer to the man of the house in a quasi-respectful way: “Himself will be wanting his dinner.” The implication was that “Himself” thought very highly of himself.
The desire to sound educated or sophisticated can often lead to the opposite result. For the most part, I just giggle when I hear a newscaster explain how a victim “extirpated” himself from a situation or read in the newspaper that a trial was “wrought with errors.” These sources lose credibility (as if they haven’t already for myriad other reasons) when they display their lack of education by attempting to fake it. I don’t find the “myself” phenomenon at all amusing; my feelings are more exasperation and frustration. All the speaker cares about is “me, myself, and I.”