Archive | December, 2011

First World Problems: The Reflexive “Myself”

27 Dec


I spend half of my life driving all over greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, which would be tiresome, except that it allows for my two favorite pastimes: one, listening to NPR, and two, overestimating the time I have to make it through a yellow light.  Because of the latter pastime, I spend most of my drives speeding through intersections, eyes glued to the rearview mirror looking for cops, yelling, “Whoops whoops WHOOPS WHOOPS WHOOPS!”

It was during the former activity, however, that I heard one of the most ridiculous, privileged sentences I’ve ever heard in my life.  Let me pause right here and say this: I love NPR.  I love it so much that I feel guilty for not donating to it (it’s not that I don’t think they deserve my money, it’s just that I think there are more important places to send it, like to Sarah McLachlan’s International Guilt Fund).  It’s excellent radio, and normally (with the exception of the following example) incredibly socially-conscious.

I was listening to an interview with one of the chefs for America’s Test Kitchen, and the interviewer was leading into a segment on making the perfect pie crust.  Fine.  But as she did so, she really and truly said something like, “Now, this is an important issue.  One of the things people dread the most–one of the hardest parts about the holidays across the country–is how difficult it can be to roll out pie crust.”

Verbal hashtag: First world problems.

At least I feel prepared for the next homeless person I encounter on the wintered streets.  “You think you got problems this Christmas, buddy?!  My PIE CRUST has not yet reached the desired balance between FLAKY AND COHESIVE!!  I mean, it’s CLOSE, but it’s DEFINITELY NOT QUITE THERE!”


In a similar vein, there are a few grammatical problems I refer to as “smart people grammar problems.”  [NOTE: This is not to indicate that I believe that the difference between the first and the rest of the world is an issue of intelligence. It’s not.  That is a serious issue I have very real feelings on, and so it does not belong here on this blog, where the most serious issue is whether I can keep making Stephenie Meyer jokes without it being clear to everyone that I wouldn’t be able to make those jokes without having read all the books and seen all the movies, some of them at the midnight showings with a friend wearing a shirt that read, “Jasper? Oh HALE yes!”]

“Smart people grammar problems” are a result of over-correction, and to me, they’re the most annoying.  When I say “smart people grammar problems,” I’m talking about using the wrong big word. I’m talking about things like using “I” when “me” is appropriate, or, similarly, using “whom” when “who” should be used.  I’m talking about when sorority girls take an Introduction to Philosophy class, and for the next year, sisters of the Apple-Apple-Pi sorority can be spotted standing in cafeteria lines with their messy buns, Ugg boots, and leggings, saying to each other, “Okay, so I know we eat food every day, but, like, have you ever thought about … why?”

One of the trickiest of these so-called smart people grammar problems is the correct use of the word myself.  Here is the following rant simplified: you’re using it too much.

Myself is a reflexive pronoun.  A reflexive pronoun (these also include the words himself, herself, yourself, itself, and themselves) is a pronoun that is preceded by the noun, adjective, adverb, or pronoun to which it refers.

Here are a couple of ways you may be going wrong with this word:

1. Using myself as a substitute for me.

Incorrect: Please forward the email to John, Sue, and myself.

Correct: Please forward the email to John, Sue, and me.

First, make the sentence simple.  You would say Please forward the email to me, because to is a preposition, and me (the objective form) performs the role of the object of the preposition.  There is no such thing as a reflexive pronoun of a preposition, and that is what you’ve created when you say Please forward the email to myself.

You use a reflexive pronoun to refer back to a noun or pronoun that has already been named in the sentence.  You WOULD say I need to forward the email to myself, because myself refers back to the pronoun I that occurs earlier in the sentence.

To require the use of myself, this pronoun has to actually be physically present in the sentence.  The fact that you are the person speaking or writing the sentence does not deem that you must use a reflexive pronoun.  You’re always going to be the person speaking or writing or smoke-signalling your own sentences.  But you only use a reflexive pronoun if you’ve actually been named (like with the pronoun I) previously in the sentence.

2. Using myself as a substitute for I.

Incorrect: Hilary and myself watched an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy without even blinking.

Correct: Hilary and I watched an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy without even blinking.

Again, it’s the same problem: you’re walking around, living your life, being smart, using “I” as the subject of your sentences just like you’re supposed to, when all of the sudden, bam!  You’re in the middle of talking like a normal person, and in a confusing and scary moment just like when you put your foot down really hard because you thought there was another stair, you think to yourself, “Wait a minute, I’m the speaker here, so shouldn’t I say myself?”

No.  Myself is not a subject.  Stop it.

That being said, you can use myself for emphasis, as in, “I myself ate the entire cake.”  In this case, myself is really just renaming the subject, I.  But myself by itself is NEVER a subject.  Never!

If you’re unsure (and this is a trick that I’ve suggested for a lot of grammar problems), it often helps to strip the sentence to its bare bones.  Would you say, “Myself watched an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy” or “I watched an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy”?  Unless you’re the love child of the Cookie Monster and Yoda, the answer should be the latter.

And if you ARE the love child of the Cookie Monster and Yoda, I’ll bet that you save gems like “When you look at the dark side, careful you must be” for when you burn a pan of cookies.

Raise vs. Rise The Roof

4 Dec

I’ve always maintained that our world’s most serious problems could be solved if we would all just put aside our differences, look each other in the eyes, and do some 90’s dance moves.

I, for one, would like to be present at the press conference where President Obama announced that the White House would be addressing the current financial crisis by, “Woo, uh uh uh uh, ha ha ha ha, what what what what, ha ha ha ha, uh, na na na na na na naaa, na na na na na na, gettin’ jiggy wit’ it.  Thank you.  I will not be taking questions, unless those questions address whether I have love for the haters the haters (answer: no), whether I got floor seats at the Lakers (answer: indeed), and whether I have met Ali (answer: yes, and he informed me that I was the greatest).”

The 69 Boyz obviously side with First Lady Obama and her quest to end childhood obesity.  You may remember their muli-layered, thought-provoking satirical dance hit “Tootsie Roll.”  Lines like, “Cotton candy, sweet ‘n low, let me see that tootsie roll” forced us to reconsider the “gimme gimme” nature of American food consumption, all while we shook our booties to a driving beat, and, more often than not, dipped, baby, dipped.  (The latter was obviously a commentary on the destructive nature of chewing tobacco.)

Grammatically, though, the most helpful dance move of the 90’s (and a kindly nod to the Amish) is the move known simply as “raising the roof.”  If you can keep this dance move in mind, you’ll never have trouble with rise vs. raise again, all while having a simple dance move that effectively demonstrates that you want people to know that you did something awesome and need to move your arms up and down at 90 degree angles about it.

Raise vs. rise is an issue that follows the exact same rules as lie vs. lay.  The reason for the similarity is that in both cases, we’re dealing with intransitive verbs vs. transitive verbs.

Put simply, a transitive verb needs a direct object, and an intransitive verb does not.  Words like “enjoy” or “meet” are always transitive.  They need an object upon which to act.  For example: I enjoy pizza or She will meet you tomorrow.  Raise and lay are both transitive verbs, so this means that they require a direct object.

If you can remember raise the roof, you’ll be just fine.  Raise is only used when a direct object is involved.  You can raise the roof, you can raise prices, you can raise expectations.  You can raise a child, you can raise a vegetable garden, you can raise someone’s spirits.  If there’s a direct object involved, you’re raising.

Rise is just like lie.  It is an intransitive verb, so it does NOT take an object.  You can rise from your seat, buildings can rise into the sky, a river can rise above a dam, a hero can rise to the occasion.  In all of these cases, someone or something is completing the act of rising, but is not causing anything else to rise.

The conjugation of raise and rise is much simpler than lay vs. lie.  It looks like this:

Present            Present Participle        Past                   Past Participle

Raise                   Raising                                 Raised               (Have/had/has) Raised

Rise                      Rising                                   Rose                  (Have/had/has) Risen

As is often the case, your best bet is to memorize that chart.  The good news is that even if you get stuck, you can always go back to your starting hint–raise the roof–and go from there.

And keep your eyes out for 90’s dance hits in major policy decisions.  I think later today, C-SPAN3 is hosting a dance-off hosted by Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, tentatively titled, “I Like Big Banks and I Cannot Lie.”

Oh. my. God. Becky. Look at her credit rating.

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