Me, Myself, and I

     We all have our linguistic pet peeves. Well, those of us do who have more than a casual affaire with language.

     Here’s mine: the virtual extinction of the word “me,” and its (teeth-jarringly incorrect) replacement by “myself.” People now use “myself” almost exclusively, instead of “me”, to refer to themselves. Example: “The waiter brought food to John and myself.”

     Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if a sentence would sound OK using “me,” then “me” is correct and “myself” is wrong. It’s just that simple. “The waiter brought food to John and me.”

     I suspect that this ubiquitous and seemingly bizarre substitution of “myself” for “me” has a sociological cause. We’ve grown up with the phrase “me generation” ringing in our ears, and are intimidated by it to the point of imagining that any reference to “me” is narcissistically outré. Using “myself” is not so blatantly me-ish. Thus do some people seem incapable of uttering the word “me.”

     Then there’s that age-old grammatical tripper-upper, “I.” I think we’ve been confuzzled by grade school grammar teachers telling us that “John and me went home” is wrong, and it should be “John and I went home.” That’s true; but it does not mean “I” is always correct in place of “me.” People, trying, they believe, to be grammatically correct, say things like “the teacher smacked John and I.” Ouch. “She smacked John and myself” is also wrong. She smacked John and me.

     If a modern Patrick Henry were speaking, he’d probably say, “I know not what course others may take, but as for myself, give myself liberty or give myself death.”

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2 Responses to “Me, Myself, and I”

  1. Scott Semans Says:

    Frank, I think you’ve got it: “x and me” now sounds awkward anywhere in a sentence and nobody can remember the 8th grade rule about objects of a preposition, so they will use myself to avoid getting it wrong. I recommend “I come before me” as a mnemonic to use “I” at the beginning of a sentence and “me” at the end, which should work for all but the most convoluted sentences.

  2. Christopher Hitchens: The Man Who Left the Left | The Rational Optimist Says:

    […] one quibble: Hitchens was infected with the modern “myself” virus, mis-use of that word (in place of “me”) repeatedly scratching at this reader’s […]

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