habit has recently become ingrained. This is to replace the words ‘me’
and ‘you’ with ‘myself’ and ‘yourself’. It’s everywhere at the moment.
In shops, assistants say ‘and is this for yourself?’. Footballers tell us ‘that’s a conversation between myself and my manager’. Contestants on The Apprentice when asked who was in charge of the task say ‘that would be myself, Lord Sugar’.
I think it’s a genteelism, i.e. a
mistaken bit a grammar that is actually an attempt to sound more formal.
And, I guess, ‘myself’ sounds slightly more formal than saying ‘me’.
It’s related to the thing where people vaguely remember that you’re
grammatically supposed to say ‘My wife and I went to church’ rather than ‘Me and my wife went to church’ and misapply the rule to every situation ‘it really pissed off my my wife and I’, ‘that’s nothing to do with my wife and I’.
But it’s not just a genteelism; or, rather, genteelism doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain why this genteelism and not others. Why have we singled out ‘myself’ and ‘yourself’ as words to substitute into our sentences?
I wonder if, right now, we feel that ‘you’ and ‘me’ are too blunt, too direct. Saying ‘that was me, Lord Sugar’ maybe sounds a bit like you’re pushing yourself forward; maybe it sounds like going ‘Me me me, lord Sugar!’. I wonder if ‘And is this for you?’ sounds rather like a challenge, too personal, a bit like ‘are you seriously going to wear this?’
And that in turn may - yes, ‘may’, this
is all speculation - to a general concern about avoiding responsibility
and avoiding judgment. That manic insistence that everyone’s entitled to
their own opinion - and I mean really manic, the complete confidence
that having an opinion is sacrosanct and cannot be criticised - has been
around for a decade now. And it goes together which a reflex insistence
that we can’t judge anybody else: ‘I’m not having a go at you...’ says the phone-in caller just before having a go at you; ‘I’m not criticising you...’ she says, to preface her criticisms.
This is a kind of popular postmodernism,
at least a popular version of the postmodernism that was about complete
relativism - cultural, moral, aesthetic, even epistemic. Though most of
the smart pomo thinkers clearly weren’t relativists in any banal way
(Derrida, Foucault, for example), it’s hard to see Lyotard’s work as
endorsing anything other than the belief that judging anyone else is a
kind of profound, primary ethical error. And this seemed for him to
include making epistemic judgments about the world, insofar as they
impinge upon anyone else. I guess for a while this seemed liberating,
but ultimately it locks us in tiny boxes, afraid of commenting on anyone
And you see the foolishness of that in
the idea that your opinions are sacred and you can’t be judged. Because
what are your opinions but kinds of judgment? Put another way, if your
opinions on anything are sacred, what about my opinions of your
I taught a course about pop music a
couple of years ago. I did a class where we talked about Bob Dylan’s
lyrics. One students asked, aggressively, ‘what if we think his lyrics
are crap?’ I said, ‘what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘are we allowed to
think his lyrics are crap?’ And what he meant by that, I think, was to
challenge my assumption that we could all find value in Dylan’s lyrics,
that they might repay a bit of pressure, spending a little time with
them. But also, it was aggressive because it pushed a crude and
inarticulate opinion in the way of the collective work of analysis and
debate in which the rest of us were engaged. And the answer I wanted to
give but, obviously, didn’t, was ‘of course you can think that Dylan’s
lyrics are crap, but you have also to understand that if you think that,
we are all entitled to think that your taste is crap and we might well
form rather serious negative judgments of you for making such a crass
stand on something you clearly don’t get, because if honestly you think
his lyrics aren’t to your taste, but actually you think they are bad,
crap lyrics, I can only assume that you are, on some level, a fool and,
though you believe opinions exist in some divinely-protected magic
circle, they don’t because, look, I now think you’re an idiot and I
Because this is how ideas work; they’re
meaningful, serious things. To think that Dylan’s lyrics are crap
entails a belief about other people’s beliefs; in other words, you can’t
think that Dylan’s lyrics are crap without thinking, in some way, that
the opinions of people who think he’s a genius are a bit crap too.
In a sense, then, I wonder if the plague of myselfs and yourselfs reflects a kind of fearfulness about judgment and refusal to engage that is part of a wider issue in our culture. Of course, I may be talking nonsense. You can contact myself at the usual address.