Monday, February 8, 2010

Anonymous the Grammatical Smacks Myself

In a comment to a long-ago post on Inglourious Basterds, an anonymous visitor has seen fit to rebuke the author of this precious, precious blog:

"amateur film cricket such as myself"

Should be: "amateur film cricket such as me."

Tarantino makes this error in all his scripts too.

Myself is to be used in the same sentence as "I" it is not a classy substitute for "me" [sic]

Look it up.
Zing! I stand chastened! Almost.

Dear second anonymous commenter to that post -- or, as I have decided to name you for disambiguation, Anonymous the Grammatical -- I am disappointed. For all my dangling participles, failures of subject-verb agreement, and assorted risible failures of grammar, you single out an arguable instance of myself? It leaves me to wonder if you're even trying to live up to your new moniker.

Not that it matters much, but I would like to say that I did not intend myself as a "classy substitute" for me in the controversial passage. To whatever extent I was thinking about what I was writing -- a proven danger I work to contain -- I chose myself over me for reasons of what my high school English teacher, Mrs. Rogers, called "flow." The phrase "amateur film cricket such as myself" just flows better than "amateur film cricket such as me" to myself's ears, certainly as rendered in the Missy Piggy-crossed-with-Red Foxx voice in which my internal editor reads to me.

If I were to re-write it, I would probably say "amateur film cricket like me," which would bring howls of derision from the like-versus-as panters, which goes to show that writing in English is, above all, a good way to arouse the sanctimony of our fellow English speakers. Huzzah for us!

Since you invited me to look it up, I did so. The first hit on the googles was a post on Language Log, one that also happens to touch on the like-versus-as thing:
The reflexive pronoun myself used non-reflexively (without an antecedent in its clause) has been derogated for well over a hundred years -- see MWDEU, which summarizes the critical literature as follows:

Two general statements can be made about what these crtics say concerning myself: first, they do not like it, and second, they do not know why. An index to their uncertainty can be found in this list of descriptors that they have variously attached to the practice: snobbish, unstylish, self-indulgent, self-conscious, old-fashioned, timorous, colloquial, informal, formal, nonstandard, incorrect, mistaken, literary, and unacceptable in formal written English.

Yet it is widespread in literary sources, and is "particularly popular" (MWDEU) after as, than, and like, as in this letter to the magazine Instinct (from Joseph Amodeo of Marlboro NY), September 2005, p. 16:

... I am writing to tell you how inspirational and uplifting your publication is for someone such as myself ...
Do you see what you've done, Anonymous the Grammatical? You have blundered in to a grammatical quarrel with one of the contributors to Language Log, not to mention a guy named Joseph Amodeo, who once wrote a letter to a magazine. Don't you feel petty, captious, and small? Behold the pedant's folly! Verily, it would suck to be you.

In the previous paragraph, I chose verily and behold because they are so fucking classy. I chose pedant and captious because they're slightly pretentious.

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