Contemporary Language Debate: Myself

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Links in this essay will take you to information about the usage experts and their work. Numbers in parentheses are page references in the sources.

 

myself

 

       Myself has two correct uses: The word can serve as a reflexive pronoun (I hurt myself) or an intensive pronoun (I made the pie myself). Any other uses are suspect. In particular, using myself in place of I or me is nonstandard, as in the following examples.

 

NONSTANDARD
Professor Gray and myself will deliver a joint lecture on Tuesday.

The prosecutor asked the police officer and myself to testify at the trial.

 

       Why is it, then, that so many educated people use myself in these ways? Experts offer a number of explanations, none of which are flattering. Perhaps the educated speaker or writer, fearful of getting I or me wrong, opts for myself. As Patricia O'Conner puts it, "In the contest between I and me, the booby prize often goes tomyself " (12). Barbara Wallraff writes that the error is "a genteelism—and that's not a compliment" (227). Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis agree with Wallraff that writers who break the rule may be doing so "to give their discourse a touch of what they imagine to be elegance" (48). Bryan Garner is somewhat kinder. He suggests that those who misuse myself may mistakenly believe that the word is somehow more "modest" than I or me (553).

 

       Myself does have a few defenders. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, using myself in place of I or me has been "common in the writing of reputable authors for several centuries," and resistance to its use has been declining among members of the dictionary’s usage panel: 68 percent disapproval in 2009, down from 88 percent in 1993.


       Conclusion: Avoid using myself in place of I or me. Although not everyone thinks it's wrong to use the word this way, many who disapprove may think worse, not better, of you.

 

Source: Hacker Handbooks (Boston: Bedford, 2013).

 

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