Wednesday, April 10, 2013

GRAMMAR GIRL: Irish Influences on English

Himself and Herself: The Important People

I’ve talked in the past about how to properly use the word “myself.” In American English, it’s considered wrong to use it in the object position—to say something like “Bring the corned beef and cabbage to myself.” The right choice is “me”: “Bring the corned beef and cabbage to me.”

However, “myself” is a reflexive pronoun, which means it’s in the same group of words as “himself” and “herself,” and Irish English has a special use for these words. I first discovered it when I was listening to the Outlander audiobooks by Diana Gabaldon. The books are set in Scotland. (Trust me, my family is Irish, so I know that Scottish and Irish aren’t the same thing, but in this case, both languages have the interesting quirk.) In the book, characters refer to Colum MacKenzie, Laird of Castle Leoch, as “himself.”

Here’s an example from the book:

“Weel now, that’s varra gude. Now, ye’ve just time for a wee bite, then I must take you to himself.”

“Himself?” I said. I didn’t care for the sound of this. Whoever Himself was, he was likely to ask difficult questions.

It took me a while to realize that they only used “himself” to refer to Colum and not to any other characters, and after I looked it up, it made sense. In Scottish and Irish English, “himself”—and “herself”—are used to refer to someone of importance, like the lord of the castle or the master of the house. 

For instance, a 1983 academic article by Raymond Hickey about Irish English uses these examples:

Himself isn’t here at the moment.


Where’s himself.

Hickey notes that “himself” isn’t just substituting for “he.” It means “a specific person of authority or respect” such as someone’s boss or father or a woman’s husband.

I also found a cute Irish culture website where the people who run the site are listed under the heading “Himself & Herself” on the “About Us” page.

“Myself” as an Object 

Although “himself” and “herself” have this additional meaning in Irish English, I also get the sense that it is more acceptable in Irish English to use “myself” in ways that we’d consider wrong in American English.

For example, the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “myself” notes that using the word as the object of a verb is archaic except in Irish English.  That would be a sentence such as “He brought myself some corned beef and cabbage.”

You can read the full article at GRAMMAR GIRL'S website:

1 comment:

  1. As a gal with Irish roots, I found this quite interesting! Interesting how American English doesn't accept the use of "myself/himself" when Irish English does. Considering how many Irish immigrated here, one would expect to see that influence reflected in our tongue.

    BTW, I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect!