_It’s bothered me for years, the ridiculous amount of useless grammar trivia that I’ve picked up in my EFL career. Far too often do I find myself engaging in soulful analyses of inverted sentence structures, carefully considering obscure verb tenses (Can anyone give me a positive passive-voice sentence using the past perfect continuous tense?), or stressing out over the finite differences between similar strands of conjunctions. It never seemed so tough at Conjunction Junction when I was a kid, so why has it become so complicated now that I teach it?
This week in my advanced class we’ve been covering reflexive pronouns, which are those words that end in “self”, such as myself, himself, or themselves. We use these pronouns for either things we can do without help—I can wipe my butt by myself—or when we do something to ourselves—“When I think about you, I touch myself” (kudos to The Divinyls for those memorable song lyrics, so sweet and right). It seems simple enough and fairly infrequently needed unless you’re a teenage boy. Unfortunately, the story goes on, the plot thickening into a horrible grammatical goulash.
I have an imbedded hatred for reflexive pronouns because I’ve tried to learn Spanish, a language overstuffed with them, and I say “overstuffed” because I can never seem to remember the massive list of reflexive Spanish verbs. Spanish speakers stand themselves, kneel themselves, and feel themselves (both emotionally and physically). Their abundance of self-inflicted actions dazzles me, and I constantly fumble and f-up the language because I can’t wrap my head around when things are reflexive. For instance, in English, we can get close to a hottie, but in Spanish, we must always get ourselves close to a hottie. It sounds a little too suave and cool for my liking.
More annoyingly, my job has turned me (not myself) into a hyper-geek, and because reflexive pronouns are rarely needed, native English speakers drive me crazy by constantly misusing them, shoving them into sentence subjects, creating impossibly mismatched reflexive objects. For example, in the case of shoved-in reflexive subjects: “Jimmie and myself are going out pimpin’ tonight” is not correct. It should, of course, be Jimmie and I are going out pimpin’. As for objects, “That ho pushed up on Jimmie and myself” should not use the reflexive “myself” or the subject “I” for that matter, but in actuality, grammatically, that ho pushed up on Jimmie and me.
More alarmingly, I think these mistakes occur in an effort to sound stuffy and educated, especially as they most often occur from stuffy overly-schooled people. When I was getting my AIDS test done in order to apply for a Russian visa, the doctor made me wince several times, not because she was cutting off my circulation and jabbing me with a needle, but she kept explaining things to me using “yourself”, such as “in the case of yourself” instead of “in your case” or “in the case of you”. It bothered me so badly that I had to prevent myself from puking out a grammar lesson to the obviously brainier M.D.
So, as for you (not yourself), please watch yourself. Use the reflexive pronoun with both wisdom and humility, the only thing more pretentious than saying “My wife and myself prefer to flatulate in private” is to explain why that statement is just wrong, despite the polite intentions of solitary flatulation.