Afraid of Me?A reader has asked that I call attention to the frequent and incorrect use of the pronoun myself. She objects to its use in sentences such as, "They offered a drink to her and myself." It grates, she says.
She is correct. The usage is definitely not encouraged in grammar books. Frederick Crews, in his Random House Handbook Sixth Edition, tells us firmly: "Do not use this intensive pronoun merely as a substitute for I or me. keep myself for emphatic or reflective uses: My friends and myself are all old-timers now; she gave the book to Steve and myself. Save myself for emphatic or reflexive uses: I myself intend to do it; I have forgiven myself."
Perhaps the simplest and most useful explanation I have found for the difference between me and myself is on a Washington State University Web site, www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html. The professor there tells us that "the misuse of I and myself for me is caused by nervousness about me. Trying to avoid its use people will look for an alternative. All this confusion can be avoided if you just move the second party from the sentence where you feel tempted to use myself as an object or feel nervous about me. You wouldn't say 'The IRS sent a refund check to myself.'"
You would say, "The IRS sent a refund check to me."
Voila! No myself.
All these rules, however, don't tell us what to do about skillful writers who use myself incorrectly and make us enjoy their sentences:
From Webster's Dictionary of English Usage: "'It will find him here as it will myself' -- Thomas Jefferson," and
"'Somehow myself survived the night' Emily Dickinson."
PostscriptIn my April 16 column I wrote about the emotion that the "improper" use of who and whom elicits. Those who insist on what they consider the proper usage are very firm in their belief. I found a wonderful example in the April 18 New York Times obituary of Eugene Erlich, "Word Connoisseur." The final sentences in the obit read:
"On his deathbed, Mr. Erlich heard somebody ask, 'To who?'
"'To whom,' he said with a weak voice and great authority."
In a more humorous example, the Rev. Professor Peter Gomes of the Harvard faculty gave the 2004 commencement address to the graduates of Concord Academy. He warned them solemnly (and I assume jokingly) that in the world they were about to enter, success is not dependent upon who you know. "It is whom you know," he declared.
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