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Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 28 10:36:43 EDT 2018


More from Stan Carey...

https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/reflecting-on-the-reflexive-pronoun-themself/
https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/the-unsung-value-of-singular-themself/


On Sat, Jul 28, 2018 at 10:31 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
wrote:

> I have been using “themself” as a reflexive for singular referents for
> some time, although it still gets “corrected” in my mail program.  The OED
> has hits for this use, glossed as
>
> 2. In anaphoric reference to a singular pronoun or noun of undetermined
> gender or where the meaning implies more than one: _himself or herself_.
>
> back to the 15th c., including a couple from Caxton and Thomas More:
>
> c1450   in Publ. Mod. Lang. Assoc. Amer. (1911) 26 170   Euery creature
> That ys gylty and knowyth thaym-self coulpable.
> 1463–5   Rolls of Parl.: Edward IV (Electronic ed.) Parl. Apr. 1463 §38.
> m. 12   Inheritementes, of which any of the seid persones..was seised by
> theym self, or joyntly with other.
> 1489  (▸a1380)    J. Barbour Bruce (Adv.) i. l. 502   Thar is nother man
> na page In all this land than thai sall be Fayn to mak thaim selewyn fre.
> 1490   Caxton tr. Foure Sonnes of Aymon (1885) i. 39   Eche of theym
> sholde..make theymselfe redy.
> 1533   T. More Apologye 55 b   Neyther Tyndale there nor thys
> precher..hath by theyr maner of expounynge..wonne them self mych wurshyp.
>
> Its modern examples include
>
> 1946   G. Kanin Born Yesterday iii. 140   If I ever seen somebody outsmart
> themself, it's you.
> 1967   P. Nichols Day in Death Joe Egg ii. 47   I don't know whether
> anyone sees themself as an old-age pensioner.
> 2007   Glamour Apr. 58/2   Over-thinking is a person's way of defending
> themself emotionally but it can lead to unnecessary paranoia.
>
> It seems entirely parallel to “yourself” used for singular rather than
> plural 2d person antecedents, and also to “ourself” for royal “we”, as
> opposed to the editorial “we” or the “we” for speakers with tapeworms
> (according to a no doubt apocryphal attribution to Mark Twain), where
> “ourselves” seems more suitable.  Actually, maybe the editorial “we” can
> play it either way; I don’t have a strong intuition there.  Since we’ve
> managed “you” (sg.)…”yourself” vs. “you (pl.)…yourselves” for several
> centuries without significant problems, I don’t see what the fuss is for
> “they” (sg.)…themself” vs. “they" (pl.)…”themselves”.
>
> LH
>
> > On Jul 28, 2018, at 2:01 AM, Mark Mandel <mark.a.mandel at GMAIL.COM>
> wrote:
> >
> > On Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 2:40 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >> ...
> >>
> >> If you live long enough actually to see your language deteriorating -
> er,
> >> _evolving_ - right before your very eyes, it can be disconcerting, if
> not
> >> seriously annoying. E.g., an actress in a commercial has just said,
> "Teach
> >> them to love _themself_." And this is hardly a unique example. The
> >> replacement of _-selves_ by _-self_ appears to be proceeding apace.
> >>
> >
> > To be precise, with singular "they", i.e., the use of "they" to avoid
> > specifying gender for a singular or possibly singular referent. At
> least, I
> > *hope* we're not having "themself" used with a plural referent! In
> Wilson's
> > example there's no way to tell.
> >
> >
>

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