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News & views

‘Self’ abuse: rising since Victorian times

[17 May 2012] It’s increasingly common to receive emails saying things like: ‘Please respond to Mr Smith or myself’ or ‘we would like to contact yourself about this’.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on 28 April 2012, Tom Chivers points out that Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, told the Commons about emails ‘between News Corp and myself’ and that when Lord Sugar asks his hapless would-be apprentices who is to blame for not selling enough widgets, one of them will usually pipe up: ‘That was myself, Lord Sugar.’

In the case of ‘myself’, fear of using ‘me’ when ‘I’ is supposed to be correct, and vice versa, is partly to blame. The rule is hard for many people to remember, especially in speech. In ‘John and I/me had lunch together’, the trick is to remove ‘John and’ from the picture, which shows that (in standard English), ‘I’ would be correct. In ‘Goodbye from John and I/me’, the same tactic works, with ‘me’ being correct.

When it was common to have two TV newsreaders, one of them would make a point of saying ‘Goodnight from Fred and from me’, inserting the extra ‘from’ to forestall the inevitable complaints from armchair grammarians keen to claim, mistakenly, that ‘me’ was bad English.

Similar problems have been around a long time. On the day the Telegraph gave Chivers a platform, it serialized Kate Summerscales’ new book ‘Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace’, which includes long extracts from the scandalous diaries of Isabella Robinson, written in the 1850s. After a passionate encounter on a heather-topped hillside with her doctor friend Edward, married Isabella confided to her diary:

‘What followed I hardly remember – passionate kisses, whispered words, confessions of the past. Oh God! I had never hoped to see this hour, or to have my part of love returned. But so it was. He was nervous, and confused, and eager as myself.’

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