[lg policy] England’s Reflexive Pronoun Epidemic

Fierman, William wfierman at indiana.edu
Sun Jul 31 09:50:59 EDT 2016

England’s Reflexive Pronoun Epidemic
[Roger Cohen]

Roger Cohen JULY 28, 2016

There is a reflexive pronoun epidemic in England that, while it may not be high on the list of the world’s problems, is suggestive of some serious social weirdness. It’s a straining for exaggerated politeness or elevated speech that reflects a society still riven by class.

“Does that work for yourself?” “Could we perhaps have a quote from yourself?” “Is the water temperature right for yourself?” “We will have that fixed for yourself as soon as possible.” “I have booked the flight for yourself.”

Yes, that is all fine for myself!!! (I would not dream of ending that last sentence with a period as it may appear unenthusiastic when I want to exude delight at being addressed with such deference.) In fact, thanks to yourself, it’s been a great day for myself!!!

What on earth is wrong with little old “you” and “me?” They are words too short and too plain for the hospitality and service industries that now make up a big chunk of the British economy. People used to manufacture machines. Now they manufacture obsequious multisyllabic reflexive pronouns with a letter quotient designed to aggrandize yourselves, and so render yourself pliant to opening your wallet.

It’s all part of the “bespoke” experience!! Don’t get me started on that.

Of course, I have to curb the overwhelming urge to tell people that “you” and “me” are just fine for ME (as they should be for YOU), as that would reveal my own snobbery in reaction to their inverted, or misplaced, or attempted snobbery; so sharpening corrosive social divisions.

That would not be good for a country, or what is left of it, that recently saw two old Etonians, David Cameron and Boris Johnson, duel over Britain’s European future and produce a disaster for myself, yourself, herself, himself and just about any self.

There is no doubt, at least for myself, that this reflexive pronoun business has now outstripped apostrophe abuse as the supreme grammatical annoyance. Its such an irritant in it’s way — perhaps also to yourselve’s?!?!

There is also the uncontrolled use of the word “pop” to consider — “pop a signature on there,” “pop your seat upright,” “pop me an e-mail” — but it’s a short word that falls within the ambit of that maddeningly meaningless phrase: It is what it is.

Now if any British corporation “reached out” to its employees on the issue of the misuse of reflexive pronouns, it would probably have to “take the issue offline” because of its sensitivity, “unpack” all the nuances, make discussion of it “a regular thing going forward,” “drill down” as far as possible, “get its ducks in a row” before deciding to “action” any change, and generally have a “thought shower” (“brainstorm” is now, it seems, considered offensive to epileptics) about how its clients “themselves” might react.

Not bothering with all this is clearly a no-brainer!!!

I know that there is no escaping the little irritants in life, like asking for ice in your Coke in France and getting a single ice cube; or the beeps and pings that now issue from every electronic contraption; or seeing a bottle of good wine emptied by some overzealous sommelier into four glasses filled almost to the brim; or losing out to the fine print; or being defeated in the quest to speak to a human being by some devilish labyrinth of automated responses; or having to listen to an explanation of why anyone would want a driverless car; or password hell; or just finding yourself in an airport alongside all the other suckers who know for a fact that whatever happened to Osama bin Laden was grossly insufficient punishment.

So it goes. You just have to breathe deeply and be grateful for the gift of breath. YOLO! Don’t get me started on that, either.

The English reflexive pronoun thing has not crossed the Atlantic, yet, but “no worries” has (having previously made the longer crossing from Australia). I’m just not in a space right now where I can deal with that. (“Oh, really, where are you then?”)

It may just be time to “offboard” as I’m not sure I have the “bandwidth” to be “looped” into a discussion of how anyone can say “no worries” at this particular moment in history, whatever side of the Atlantic himself or herself happens to be situated on. I mean that’s just beyond. What would be even the thematic tent poles of the debate? I can’t even!!

Let’s face it: “Does that work for yourself?” is never going to work in New York City, which would rather tell you to “drop dead” than adopt that affectation. So there are limits to the global homogenization of bad English after all. Neither deference nor pomposity is a New York thing. America is not classless; it’s just not class obsessed.

That in plain English will about do it for myself.

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