Myself Abuse #Grammarrants


This is an oldie but goodie; something close to our hearts and central to our daily #grammarrant

The mortal sin of myself-abuse  By Tom Chilvers for The Telegraph, April 2012

I call it the "estate agents' self": the pointless upgrading of "me" to "myself", or "you" to "yourself". "We'll arrange a meeting between the client and yourself at a later date"; "Myself and the vice-president of accounts will be reviewing your pay scale at the end of the fiscal year."

If you watch The Apprentice, you'll know what I mean. Roughly half of all discussions go:

"Who came up with this bladdy stoopid idea?" "That was myself, Lord Sugar."

But it's spreading beyond its natural home among pinstriped management-consultancy graduates, and into the wider world.

This week England's Jonathan Trott said of his relationship with his fellow batsman Ian Bell: "Belly and myself are working just as hard as each other." At the Leveson inquiry, we heard James Murdoch refer to "my father or myself" and "the company and myself"; Tom Crone, his former lawyer, complained about "Mr Murdoch's attack on Colin Myler and myself." And, most shameful of all, Jeremy Hunt, the culture (!) secretary, told the House of Commons about "correspondence between News Corporation and myself."

Myself-abuse is just the tip of the iceberg. When faced with intimidating social or professional situations, we naturally try to make ourselves sound more intelligent, more commanding. Unfortunately, that sometimes means using words that we don't fully understand, or that don't actually add anything to our meaning. "Whilst" and "amongst" instead of "while" and "among" are prime examples. Management-speak is filled with this nonsense: "action" as a verb rarely means anything that "do" doesn't; "impact", while not being any longer than "affect", sounds more important, because it's newer and therefore more exciting.

It's not that these words are wrong. Words mean what people understand them to mean, and with "myself", everyone immediately understands what is meant. There are no eternal laws of English that can never be broken. Meanings change. To pick examples at random, the words "lord" and "lady" originally meant "bread-keeper" and "bread-kneader" in Old English, and "knight", which comes from the same root as "knave", meant "servant" – but no one thinks the current meanings are wrong. Since we have no Academie Anglaise to police our language, there is nothing more "correct" about older forms of language than newer ones.

But the trouble isn't that they're incorrect, it's that they're a waste of time. Saying "myself" in those situations adds nothing to the sentence that "me" doesn't, except an extra syllable. Extra syllables make people think they sound cleverer. We're all guilty of it; I drop the occasional unnecessary "myself" in. But it's ugly as sin, and has the opposite effect to that intended.

So, in a spirit of linguistic snobbery, I have started to put together a list of Unnecessary Attempts to Sound Clever (Uascs) that, when I am Supreme Commissar of the Socialist Workers' Paradise Collective, will be punishable with re-education at the Happy Learning Fun Camp For Differently Informed Citizens:

"Action": do;

"Amongst": among;

"At this moment in time": now;

"Constitutes": is;

"Fulsome": full;

"Impact": affect;

 "Individual": person;

"Literally": really;

"Myself": me;

"Persons": people;

 "Phenomenon": thing;

 "Practicable": doable, practical;

 "Utilise": use;

"Timorous": timid;

"Whilst": while;

"Whomever", "Whomsoever": whoever;

"Yourself": you

You might argue with some of these. "Fulsome", of course, has an interesting second meaning, of insultingly over-the-top. "Literally" has its sense of "non-metaphorical", as well as its lamentable but centuries-old use as an intensifier, commonly used by football pundits. That's fine; those meanings are subtle and specific, and cannot be conveyed effectively by other words. But in the senses above – utilising "utilise" instead of using "use" – they do not add depth. They just make you sound like you're trying too hard.