Me, Myself, and I

Reflections on the complicated tyranny of the personal pronoun.

Peter Warland

“Be obscure clearly.” (E.B. White)

For possibly hundreds of years, our mother stopped my sister and me from using the word “me”. She was concerned that we’d be egoists and thus make fools of ourselves and, in fact, we did just that. If anyone in those days had asked, “Who’s there?” we’d have answered, “It’s I,” which, of course is correct but sounds daft.

School never really sorted out this grammatical stupidity because, in those days, nobody taught English grammar. We were supposed to soak it all in by reading ‘good’ literature and thus absorbing the grammar as we went. The trouble was: we had to read Milton, who wrote, “Methinks I see her as an eagle …” and Willy Shakespeare who went on about “Montague, as well as I, is bound in penalty alike…” and this confused the heck out of us ignoramuses.

In fact, it was our long-suffering French, German and Latin teachers who were forced to straighten out us louts. Why, even some of the Frenchmen like Descartes wrote in Latin so that they didn’t have to remember the French “je and me” nonsense. He wrote “cogito ergo sum” without mentioning “ego” and that left the English to decide whether he meant “I” or “me,” the coward.

Just after getting Cleopatra pregnant, Julius Caesar sneaked off to elsewhere in the Middle East where he wrote home saying, “Veni, vidi, vici.” This was a good way to boast of his prowess without actually saying “I.”

Not like the Tarzan of my youth, who proclaimed on film, “Me Tarzan; you Jane.” It was difficult not to emulate him.

Then I discovered that the Spanish speakers too sneaked around, like their Latin forebears, and dropped personal pronouns like “I.” I loved that fact when I first invaded Mexico and there left many locals stunned with my rhetoric.

The trouble is: having been a school teacher for aeons, I keep hearing folk making mistakes in their speech and I am forced to “sit on my hands” and shut up, most of the time. I realize, of course, that I too make grammatical faux pas and, if both my computer and editor miss  them,  they sneak into my columns. Then, usually, some genius with too much time on his or her hands spots them immediately and gleefully points them out to me.

Anyway, the rules are simple: If you’re the doer, say “I”; if you’re the receiver, say “me”; and if you wish to emphasise things, say “myself.” That is all that there is to it but, if and when you get it right, you’ll sound soft in the head.

Try this test if you’ve got nothing better to do in your miserable life.

You are driving a tad too fast downtown and a police officer pulls you over. He leans over and peers through your window and asks, “In a hurry?” You, with an astonished look on your face, reply, “Who (I, me, myself), officer? He says, “(I, me, myself) spotted you doing over a hundred in a school zone.”

Quickly, you swear, “Not (I, me, myself), officer. (I, me, myself) pride (I, me, myself) on taking inordinate care with my driving downtown.”

The officer straightens his back and hitches up his gun-belt and says, “What do you think (I, me, myself) am? (I, me, myself) am not blind. (I, me, myself) and my partner over there clocked you doing well over ninety and, what is more, you were yakking away on a cell-phone at the same time. (I, me, myself) am booking you with speeding, using a cell phone whilst in motion, and obstructing (I, me, myself) in my duties.”

Then you snap back, “Bet when you’re not working, you’re no better than (I, me, myself.)”

Try to correctly assess the right word in each case and then send your answers in a stamped, self-addressed envelope to The Egocentric Society care of the Daily Townsman or the Bulletin.

If you get this right, you’ll receive a Stanley Cup puck signed by Sir John A. Macdonald, who always got the “I, me and myself” correct.