[Ads-l] RES: Reflexive pronoun 'epidemic' in BrE

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jul 31 14:09:20 UTC 2016

I think that's a different phenomenon, corresponding to 

OED, s.v. "himself""
 6. orig. and chiefly Irish English and Sc. Sometimes with capital initial. With reference to a particular man, esp. a head of a household or other figure of authority, whose identity is readily understood in a particular context without prior reference or explanation by the speaker.
 a. = he pron. 1a(a).

1851   Lintie o' Moray 30   While Meggie took charge o' the cairt an' the beast, An' himsel', being active, aye managed the rest.
1907   J. M. Synge Playboy of Western World ii. 27   Let me stretch out on the settle, Pegeen Mike; and himself can lie by the hearth.
1948   D. G. Waring Not Quite so Black 88   ‘Captain,’ she hissed, in her usual stage whisper. ‘Himself is back for dinner the day!’
1970   R. Adam Stalk to Hill xi. 161   ‘Is himself still up,’ I asked.
2007   R. Thomas Constance 14   How's Himself this morning, by the way?

b. = him pron. 1.

1884   Crofters' Comm. Evid. I. 237,   I am not aware that there is any one paying rent unless to himself.
1909   W. Eleroy Curtis One Irish Summer 264   ‘We're waiting for himself to come home to dinner,’ was the remark of a good wife, when I inquired for her husband.
1991   D. Gabaldon Outlander 68   Now, ye've just time for a wee bite, then I must take you to himself.
2008   P. Taylor Irish Country Village 21   Mrs. Brown says she's stopped the bleeding, so I've put them in the surgery to wait for himself to come back.

The one in the Roger Cohen op-ed can never be subject, and doesn't refer to "the man himself", but instead (as others have suggested before him) seems to be a kind of euphemism or taboo-avoidance phenomenon for the "impolite"-seeming objective "me"/"you", perhaps originating from objects of pronouns, which can be either objective or reflexive, depending on various factors:  She pulled the blanket around her/herself.  

The (6)-type reflexive, on the other hand, is far less likely in the third person, which is the *normal* use of the untriggered reflexive in the above examples (*Myself is/am awake and would like some breakfast, Jeeves.


> On Jul 31, 2016, at 9:30 AM, David Daniel <dad at COARSECOURSES.COM> wrote:
> Bizarre, I can remember this British usage as being common, say, 50 years
> ago and it is certainly way older than that. Usually among lower/working
> classes and often used wryly, applied to one of similar social level who is
> suspected of putting on airs. Like: The butler comes in and says something
> plummy, and one cook says to the other, "Well, just listen to himself!" That
> sort of thing. Maybe usage has broadened lately, but it's not new.
> Poster:       David Kendal <me at DPK.IO>
> Subject:      Reflexive pronoun 'epidemic' in BrE
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---
> Has anyone investigated this more thoroughly? Does BrE really use more
> reflexive pronouns than AmE? Is this a recent trend?
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.nytimes.com_2016_07_29_opinion_english-2Dfor-2Dyourself.html&d=CwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=4M0M-HN4_TqQa5qmi01cdJb5gGD5nsh7OA8DmLNOxyw&s=E9J2ctt2_960l9kL8izP70N6parLuXJ1ptfKWuAkS-A&e= 
> Specifically, use of prep. + refl. pron. instead of the more standard subj.
> pron.
> As a BrE speaker I think I instinctively associate this pattern with
> politeness or modesty in relatively formal contexts, particularly in
> =E2=80=98for myself=E2=80=99 meaning =E2=80=98if it were up to me=E2=80=99=
> , with an implication that the speaker has been persuaded to undertake a
> task which normally they would not.
> But that's all anecdotal.
> dpk (David P. Kendal) =C2=B7 Nassauische Str. 36, 10717 DE =C2=B7 =
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__dpk.io_&d=CwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=4M0M-HN4_TqQa5qmi01cdJb5gGD5nsh7OA8DmLNOxyw&s=5AJYUJEPY5k4HJb4Y9xsFdzPKrmOlJh159h4B2Lwgqs&e= 
>  The House of Commons [is] like Noah=E2=80=99s Ark=E2=80=94a few men & =
> many beasts.
>                                             =E2=80=94 Samuel Taylor =
> Coleridge
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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