I first noticed it at the used car dealership about a year ago when the obsequious young male assistant saw me to the door. He held it open and then with a majesterial sweep of his free arm and a slight bow at the waist he ushered me out saying: “After yourself.”
Horrified by his misplaced use of the reflexive pronoun, I was tempted to respond with: “No, no, please, after yourself,” but I thought better of it. There are enough people butchering sentences without me adding to the clamour by giving the impression that the mistaken manner in which he had used “yourself” might, in fact, have been correct.
Then there was the email where the sender asked me to respond to John as soon as possible and “please could you cc myself into it.”
And then there was the assistant at the Hayman Island resort who told me: “In the deluxe room, yourself and your husband will find a pillow menu.” Indeed, and what a jolly good night’s sleep myself and his self had.
What the hell is going on? Since when did we all start showing this absurd deference to each other by forcing the reflexive pronoun to assume such yogic positions?
There are limits to the global homogenisation of bad English after all.
A few weeks ago New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote an op-ed suggesting that the reflexive pronoun epidemic was an English phenomenon that had not crossed the Atlantic. “There are limits to the global homogenization of bad English after all,” he wrote. “Neither deference nor pomposity is a New York thing”. Well, the tsunami of comments that followed told another story. Sorry, but the epidemic has not only reached America, it is also rife down under.
So, what lies at the root of this fawning? Why have the people of the Western world all turned into Uriah Heep? (Who, by the way, was convicted of fraud in David Copperfield, and transported to Australia of all places.)
First, my suspicion is that this nonsense actually started in Australia and moved to the northern hemisphere. Australians are experts at mangling English in a forelock tugging way. As a young court reporter I actually heard the accused respond to a magistrate’s question with “Yes, your hhhonour.” Oh so ‘umble gov’nor.
Aussies simply do not thumb their noses at authority “irregardless” of who they are talking to. But Australians, gawd bless ‘em, have a special gift for murdering words. When Greece got itself into economic trouble it needed a “bowel out” from the EU, to rebuild the country. We need a bit of that in “Malbourne” and “Sinny” where there’s “somewhat of a” lack of “infastructure”. We all “ignowledge” that, don’t we? Or is it just myself who thinks that?
Lord only knows how migrants to Australia come to terms with this new way of talking. To all “extensive purposes” they have to behave like the Romans after they’ve pledged their allegiance at their citizenship “Sarah-moanies”.
Lord only knows how migrants to Australia come to terms with this new way of talking.
But, let’s not be too hard on the good people of Australia. After all, we know there’s a particularly insidious form of language bastardisation that comes straight out of Harvard Business School.
Here they “reach out” to stakeholders and “loop” colleagues into emails as they go about producing “collateral”. When times are tough, a business must either “take a hair cut” (accept a valuation or return that’s less than optimal) or “wash its face” (at least break even). They’ll be clipping their toenails next. We urgently need to put an end to this grooming and ablution fetish.
Suffice it to say the days of “blue sky thinking” might be over, but you never know, we might “circle back” to that, or perhaps “take it offline”. The “takeaway” from all this comes down to “learnings” and “behaviours”, not spring rolls and special fried rice. That’s enough, I think we’ll “park that idea”, right there.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m no pedant. I’m all in favour of the language being a moving feast, as they say. But the “white elephant in the room” as someone once phrased it, is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand what the hell anyone is talking about.
We need to “incentivize” people to talk and write more clearly, and stop “riffing off” this madness. Quite frankly, and to paraphrase Churchill, it’s the kind of arrant nonsense up with which we should not put.
Sushi Das is a journalist and author. Follow her on Twitter: sushidas1
Image courtesy of Flickr/ Yau Hoong Tang.