Saturday, March 7, 2009

Me, myself, and I

So there it was, on an annual giving solicitation Flash presentation that our alma mater sent to us via email. An undergraduate at a prestigious university expressing his gratitude for the institution's "no loans" policy (the institution in question offers outright grants instead so that the undergrads can graduate debt free).

"I'm so grateful for what the university and its alumni have done for people like myself," he effervesced.

We're no Latin scholars, but we've learned along the way about the difference between the nominative case -- the subject of a verb -- and the accusative case -- the object of a verb.

He meant to say "I'm (nominative) so grateful for what the university and its alumni have done for people like me (accusative)." First person pronoun as subject = I. First person pronoun as object = me.

See how simple it is?

Sadly, somewhere along the way, users of our complex but beautiful-in-its-complexity language have either failed to learn the difference, gotten sloppy, or come to believe that polysyllabic words (e.g., myself) are more impressive than monosyllabic ones.

One can often see and hear such behavior among law enforcement officials noting that they "apprehended the alleged perpetrator" rather than saying "we got the guy dat we tink did dis" (N.B. the previous quote is in "Chicago-ese, a rich topic that we'll address in the future).

The correct use of "myself" is as a reflexive pronoun. Recall that reflexive verbs are things that you do to...yourself. "I hurt myself," for example. "I cut myself shaving."

Or "I hate myself for not knowing the difference between nominative and accusative and getting called out by some blogger for it."


Mike Diefenbach said...

You had me, Stephen... until you used "effervescent" in its verb form. As that's not often done (I've NEVER heard it, and I get around a bit) it's enough to get you smacked (or at least criticized behind your back) by most people... even alums of schools like yours that give out student grants. Seemed a bit "Cliff Claven-ish," that's all.

There are words I go to to look up because I ought (or want) to know their use or meaning, and there are those that I look up begrudgingly because I'm pissed they were hurled at me like a trailing high inside fast ball. "Effervesce" sits firmly in the latter category.

Just trying to help keep you honest, brother.

David said...

Can the accusative (which I'm guessing means all the forms of -self) also be used for emphasis, e.g. "Can you believe that Spitzer, Mr. Altar Boy himself, got nailed on a prostitution charge?"