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And for yourself?

Posted on May 18, 2014 by John Scotcher
Disclaimer:  this is a rant about language.  I'll be in no way offended if you get bored half way through and go look for kitten pictures.  Right then...

When I was about seventeen, my father told me a story about a friend of his, who had been in the town centre a few days before.  It wasn't a particularly exciting story, but it has stuck in my mind to this day.  The friend (we'll call him Brian, which isn't his name.   I'm not protecting him, I simply don't remember.*) was in a shop and was given the change from a purchase by the shop assistant who used the words, “There you go.”

“Where do I go?”  Brian apparently responded to the confusion of the shop assistant.  Brian then proceeded to explain to the assistant that 'there you go' was neither an appropriate, nor logical response to give when returning a customer his or her change.  Apparently he did this in quite a crowded shop and embarrassed the assistant considerably.

Now my father was very pleased with this story.  To him, Brian was a crusader for tradition, battling the strange space-slang of the spotty teens of the eighties.  To me on the other hand, Brian was an idiot.  Now, seventeen year old boys often disagree with their fathers and in retrospect I am sure Brian was probably a very nice man (if I could remember who the hell he actually was).  However to me this represented such a remarkable ignorance of  the way language worked that I rode around the house on my high horse for days afterwards.  Admittedly the high horse and I rode silently, but I remember being affronted at the hypocrisy of anyone criticising anyone else's use of language.  Language by its nature is an ongoing and transitional creature.  What meant something for one generation can mean something quite different for another. 

Which brings me to the reflexive pronoun.  As I get older and more close minded, I find myself being dragged, quite unhappily to Brian's way of thinking.  I often hear people misusing my particular understanding of English, and I find myself increasingly irritated by it.  Doubly so because my irritation irritates me.  Most of the time I can remind myself of dear old Brian and move on before I actually get to a point of saying something.  Unless it is a bloody reflexive pronoun. 

OK – simple explanation.  And I should point out this is an explanation of my use of reflexive pronouns.  I am quite aware I regularly misuse words as accepted in other people's understandings.  For example, I have a habit of using the word 'squirrel' where other people would use a word along the lines of 'thingamy'.  This is fine when I use it amongst friends -   “Oh, where's the squirrel?”  “You left it in the kitchen, John” - but when used with strangers, it will have them mostly looking at me funny, or on very rare occasions hunting phantom woodland animals. Anyway, as usual I digress.

So that damn reflexive pronoun.  An example.  In a restaurant, I will be asked, when my order is about to be taken, “And for yourself, sir?” instead of “And for you, sir?”  Cue me biting my tongue, seething in a “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”  type way**, then staring at the waiter in question, as if this will guilt him into taking a grammar course.  Like he gives a monkey's.

It's not that it's misused in itself, it's that it's so bloody clumsy.  If one continued on this route, one could end up stuck with sentences like 'yourself should give yourself a good talking to'.  It's also, that this particular misuse is often used by people wanting to make themselves sound 'more cleverer'.  I get it a lot in business networking circles, which I usually love. 

I also get it when on the phone to salesmen.  In recent years, I have curbed my bad habit of salesman baiting.  Life is too short.  Though if you are of a mind to want to play yourself, try the following:  When a salesman says “Do you mind if I tell you about our great new offer?”  Counter with. “Of course, if you let me tell you about Jesus.”  Watch them run.

When a well meaning telesales person does it however, I tend to let them talk for longer, then at the end of their spiel, tell them I would have almost certainly bought, had they not misused the reflexive pronoun.  This is met with a range of reactions, from confusion to affront.  Here I usually hang up.

Now, as mentioned, I am no expert.  If you are great with grammar, you'll find a host of commas in this blog that are in 'creative' places.  That's why the book has an editor.  God forbid I let my own draft of that out.  However the older I get, the more I find myself siding with my father and Brian and embracing my own linguistic hypocrisy.

Now however, it is sunny.  There is a bunch of my nearest and dearest in the garden with gin and tonic, and I should get outside and stop being an angry middle class white man.  Besides, there's probably a squirrel to look for.

*I won't bore you with how long I spent trying to find a justification for two sentences within brackets within another sentence.  I couldn't, so I did it anyway.  It is after all, MY blog.  

**I can only apologise for quoting Thoreau.  This is tantamount to name dropping.  I am annoying myself right now. 

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