You, Yourself, Argh!

What is it about government euphemistically named helplines that has me pulling out what is left of my hair?

I had reason to get in touch with a neighbouring local authority today to pay a £25 parking fine that our son had thoughtlessly picked up on Mrs P’s behalf.

I started with the online payment service, but it refused to accept my ‘crime’ reference number and though I found and placed my mouse pointer over the red cross for further details, as instructed, this didn’t work because their website doesn’t like Firefox.

So I rang the aforementioned helpline and after various recorded messages and button pressing, an operator put me through to automatic payments by phone. Again the system refused to believe my reference number.

After going back through the same ‘your call may be recorded for training purposes’  rigmarole, I finally got through to someone who was able to explain the reason for the problem which was me entering TMO2056835 instead of TM02056835.

You can just about tell where my error lay, but who on earth failed to realise putting a zero after two capital letters just might lead people to confuse it with the letter O?

Embarrassing though this was, the real cause of my bureaucratic alopecia was the recorded message at the start of each call inviting me to take part in a customer satisfaction survey. It would only take two minutes of my time and all I had to do was press one and they would call me back.

I was about to agree when the voice told me that the call back would be ‘at no cost to yourself’. This had me muttering into the mouthpiece: ‘I’m the subject of that sentence, not the bloody object!’

This misuse of the reflexive pronoun drives me nuts and I blame the call centres. Someone who uses our recordings for training purposes has decided that using ‘yourself’ instead of ‘you’ makes their salesfolk sound softer and more empathetic when in truth they come across as sycophantic, untrustworthy and just plain wrong.

And itself is spreading like some linguistic virus. Ourselves need to find a vaccine and fast before it’s too late. Oh no! Me, myself, I can feel my grey matter turning to mush!

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

6 comments… Add yours
  • Thomas Cook-Pudding 16th March 2012

    Like curly-haired Liverpudlians say, “Calm down! Calm down!”
    Yourself seems to be losing yourself’s marbles old chap and if you carry on like this, US immigration will send oneself straight back. Remember – anger is a self-destructive emotion – just take deep breaths and chant repeatedly:-
    oṃ muni muni mahāmuniye svāhā

  • Roger Green 16th March 2012

    Nah, you have the right to be ticked, I say.

  • Jennyta 17th March 2012

    Drives one mad, does it not?

  • rhymeswithplague 17th March 2012

    This is the first of two comments from moi, er, me, or rhymeswithplague:

    Not to be pedantic or anything, but for all ninnies everywhere who don’t understand what you’re talking about, Ian, these paragraphs from Wikipedia should prove helpful:

    A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that is preceded by the noun, adjective, adverb or pronoun to which it refers (its antecedent) within the same clause. In generative grammar, a reflexive pronoun is an anaphor that must be bound by its antecedent (see binding). In some languages, there is a difference between reflexive and non-reflexive pronouns; but the exact conditions that determine whether or not something be bound are not yet well defined and depend on the language in question. It depends on the part of the sentence that the pronoun is in.

    In English, the function of a reflexive pronoun is among the meanings of the words myself, yourself, thyself (archaic), himself (in some dialects, “hisself”), herself, itself, oneself, ourselves, ourself (as majestic plural), yourselves, and themselves (in some dialects, “theirselves”). In the statements “I see him” and “She sees you”, the objects are not the same persons as the subjects, and regular pronouns are used. However, when the person being seen is the same as the person who is seeing, the reflexive pronoun is used: “I see myself” or “She sees herself”.

    In Indo-European languages, the reflexive pronoun has its origins in Proto-Indo-European. In some languages, the distinction between the normal objective and the reflexive pronouns exists mainly in the third person: whether one says “I like me” or “I like myself”, there is no question that the object is the same person as the subject; but, in “They like them(selves)”, there can be uncertainty about the identity of the object unless a distinction exists between the reflexive and the nonreflexive. In some languages, this distinction includes genitive forms: see, for instance, the Danish examples below. In languages with a distinct reflexive pronoun form, it is often gender-neutral.

    A reflexive pronoun is a special kind of pronoun that is usually used when the object of a sentence is the same as the subject. Each personal pronoun (such as I, you, and she) has its own reflexive form:

    you (singular)-yourself
    you (plural)-yourselves

    Reflexive pronouns are primarily used in three situations: when the subject and object are the same (e.g., “He watched himself on TV.”), as the object of a preposition when the subject and the object are the same (e.g., “That man is talking to himself.”), and to emphasize the subject through an intensive pronoun (e.g., “They ate all the food themselves.”)
    [edit] Non-reflexive usage in English

    It is increasingly common to use reflexive pronouns without local linguistic antecedents to refer to discourse participants or people already referenced in a discourse: for example, “Please, forward the information to myself.” Such formulations are usually considered non-standard. Within the linguistics literature, reflexives with discourse antecedents are often referred to as logophors. Standard English does allow the use of logophors in some contexts: for example, “John was angry. Embarrassing pictures of himself were on display.” However, within Standard English, this logophoric use of reflexives is generally limited to positions where the reflexive does not have a coargument.[1] The newer non-standard usage does not respect this limitation. In some cases, reflexives without local antecedents may be better analyzed as emphatic pronouns without any true reflexive sense.

    It is common in some subsets of the English-speaking population to use standard objective pronouns to express reflexive relations, especially in the first and sometimes second persons, and especially for a recipient: for example, “I want to get me some supper.” This usage is non-standard.

    I hope that makes everything perfectly clear.

  • rhymeswithplague 17th March 2012

    And this is the second:

    The French have their own method.

    Je me lave (I wash myself)
    Tu te lave (you wash yourself)
    Il se lave (he washes himself, she washes herself, it washes itself)
    Nous nous lavons (we wash ourselves)
    Vous vous lavez (you wash yourselves)
    Ils se lavaient (they wash themselves)

    …or something like that.

  • Mr Parrot 17th March 2012

    I couldn’t have put it any better myself as you, Mr Plague, have done yourself. (A contrived way of saying thank you.)


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