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On the matter of "self" in "myself", "himself", etc.

Myself seems to be formed from the possessive (my)and "self". That appears at first blush to be a single word that is formed from the "self that belongs to me".

Himself seems to be formed from the objective (him) and "self". That appears to be a single word from the plain "him" and an extra word that indicates a kind of reflexive. Italian and Spanish use that form by using the word for "same" (stesso, mismo).

Herself is the same as himself, but you can't tell, since the masculine object and possessive pronouns are different (him, his) but feminine are the same (her).

But, in the case of the second person, we use the possessive again -- yourself. (The self that belongs to you.)

Now, the hobgoblin of this particular small mind would like to get the history of how this happened. You see, in MY acquired language, to say "He did it by hisself is dialect and WRONG", yet it seems perfectly reasonable to regularize the whole scheme into something coherent. I have read "meself", but only when regional dialect is in play. It sounds wrong to me, but it would regularize the scheme.

I'd like to get a handle on this, because we have the neuter "they" coming up, when he/she is inappropriate. In my fantasy grammar, I'd say

In the convent: Let everyone do as she wants. In the monastery: Let everyone do as he wants. In the public place of indeterminate gender: Let everyone do as they wants.

(Get it? Third person singular. "They" works fine, since the conjugation defines the singular/plural issue.)

I like my little scheme for the neuter "they", but if I start mixing that with "self", it's going to get sorely non-standard, but at least it's unambiguous.

I LOVE clarity, and will be willing to sacrifice some conventions to make it happen, but it will be weird. If I have to mix in a "self" to that, my speech will become incomprehensible, so I tread slowly.

Any thoughts on the matter?

marked as duplicate by JJJ, sumelic, Edwin Ashworth, J. Taylor, curiousdannii May 22 '18 at 4:53

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  • 1
    Good luck on trying to invent the English language the way you want it to be. The rest of the English-speaking world will no doubt go on speaking English. They always takes a plural verb even when it is singular in meaning, by the way. – Colin Fine May 20 '18 at 19:39
  • Also note that the reflexive version of the gender-neutral third person can be themself (en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/themself and merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/themself) even though it's not common usage. (But it's more common among those who use they as their deliberate pronoun of choice.) – Jason Bassford May 20 '18 at 22:14
  • "Hisself" is generally thought of as a lower-class corruption of "himself", not as his+self. A rare second-person word is "thyself", as in the admonition "Physician, heal thyself." "Itself" seems to be its+self with one of the s's dropped. There is also a custom in Irish English of sometimes referring to someone of (purported) importance as "himself" or "herself", rather than simply as "he" or "she". (Because of their own sense of importance, I sometimes refer to my cats as "himself" and "herself" in this fashion.) This apparently derives from a similar usage in Irish Gaelic. – tautophile May 20 '18 at 22:46

Regarding trying to make the reflexive pronouns more regular or logical, I think that is a bit of a lost cause. I don't know why we have ended up with the pattern we have, but we are stuck with it.

They has been used as a singular pronoun for a very long time (since at least the 14th century). Longer than singular you, in fact.

Singular they follows the same grammatical rules as singular you. In particular, both take the plural form of the verb ("... as you/they want").

As a result, "themselves" is sometimes used as a gender neutral singular reflexive pronoun. I have seen occasional uses of "themself" but it seems unnatural to me. Maybe it will catch on, though.

Finally, "... is dialect and WRONG"? No! "... is dialect and inappropriate in some contexts" (in other contexts it is quite correct).

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