Hypercorrection in action: me, myself… and The Apprentice

With a new series of BBC’s Apprentice kicking off, there’s one thing I don’t look forward to. No, not the finger of doom, but the candidates’ misguided attempts at – dare I say – sounding smarter than they really are.

One of the worst – and most common – examples is their continual misuse of the word MYSELF.

“Who is responsible for the design?” barks the acerbic multimillionaire. “That was MYSELF, Lord Sugar,” comes the response.

Meanwhile, somewhere in suburban Gloucestershire, a frustrated copywriter shouts at the screen: “That was ME, Lord Sugar. ME!”

The Apprentice candidates throw MYSELF around like it’s some sort of badge of cleverness. “Hang about – if I say MYSELF instead of ME I’ll come across as really intelligent.” Quite the opposite.

Much like using when you mean ME, this is a common type of hypercorrection – when the rules of language or grammar are misapplied in an attempt to sound smart.

On reflection…

Like HIMSELF, HERSELF, YOURSELF, OURSELVES and THEMSELVES, MYSELF is a reflexive pronoun. Reflexive pronouns are used to refer back to the subject of a sentence, like this: “I baked them myself” or “I can imagine myself living in New York”.

It’s also an intensive pronoun, which means it can be used for emphasis. But while it’s grammatically correct to say, “I, myself, was responsible for the design,” it doesn’t add much to the sentence… and sounds a little pompous.

In his column in the Telegraph, journalist Tom Chivers called it the estate agents’ self. He described the affliction as “the pointless upgrading of ‘me’ to ‘myself’, or ‘you’ to ‘yourself’” as heard in sentences such as, “The design was created by Dan, Bob and myself.”

In the Plymouth Herald, previous Apprentice candidate, Brett Butler-Smythe, said, “I have stayed true to myself on Apprentice,” while former contestant, Elle Stevenson, was quoted in the Radio Times as saying, “I would have fired myself given half a chance.”

So, they don’t always get it wrong. Just, according to myself, most of the time.

You’re fired.

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