21 Comments

  1. My mother and aunt shared a taste for language oddities and jokes, which they mostly passed down to the next generations. One of their remarks was a dislike of the expression “Believe you me!” which they maintained defied normal syntax. Their suggested replacement was “Believe me, you!”.

  2. Is “Believe you me” something that comes from another language where that would be the normal word order? For that matter, is “I’m going to buy me a dog” correct English?

  3. No, it should be “I’m going to buy myself a dog.” The personal pronoun is acting as an indirect object where the personal pronoun is also the subject.

  4. Thanks, that was an interesting article!

    Just for the record, I shouldn’t have said my mother and aunt actually were bothered by the expression. They just noticed it was odd and had fun suggesting “Bᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇ ᴍᴇ, ʏᴏᴜ!”

    They also puzzled over “one fell swoop”, and suggested the big all-at-once aspect could be captured instead by “ᴏɴᴇ sᴡᴇʟʟ ꜰᴏᴏᴘ”.

  5. Mitch4, “one swell foop” is a common spoonerism of the original. The original makes sense if you realize that among the definitions of “fell” are “able or disposed to inflict pain or suffering” and “cruel; barbarous; inhuman; fierce; savage; ravenous”. The “swoop”, of course, refers to the quick attack of a hawk.

  6. In Northern England English, it is fairly common to put the direct object before the indirect object without a preposition, as in “Give it me”. (Which actually would seem to make more sense than “Give me it”, at least taking the cues from the names “direct” and “indirect” objects…) This usage apparently didn’t make it to the tenement streets of the US (as far as I know), but if it had, it might have melded with the apparent Irish word order of “Believe you me”, and we could have gotten “Give you it me”. (Heck, maybe that variation is used somewhere, and I’ve just never heard of it…)

  7. And lost somewhere in the “Carmen!” thread (somebody or other kept on posting endless over-enthusiastic essays, drowning out everything else) was my example of how French quite normally stacks up a series of pronouns, before the verb.

    And in Spanish, with a “reflexive verb” construction that can but does not have to correspond to somewhere we would add “-self” in English, you can get a series of pronouns that not only are after the verb but, at least in writing, are joined to it as one word (for an infinitive or imperative).

    My buried note in the “Carmen!” thread –

    Practice with pre-verbal enclitic pronoun sequences:

    Tout cela, n’est-ce pas, mignonne,
    de ma part ᴛᴜ ʟᴇ ʟᴜɪ ᴅɪʀᴀs ;
    et ce baiser que je te donne
    de ma part ᴛᴜ ʟᴇ ʟᴜɪ ʀᴇɴᴅʀᴀs.

  8. I’m endlessly fascinated by language. How do they start? How can a group communicate when the language rules have yet to form? How do you get from cavemen grunts to “Parlez-vous Francais?”

    While we’re at it, one fascinating TV series I recall from the ’80s or ’90s was “The Story Of English”.

  9. ‘No, it should be “I’m going to buy myself a dog.”’

    How about, “I’m going to give him a dog for his birthday.” Should that be “I’m going to give himself a dog for his birthday?”

  10. No, because the subject and object are different people. You would say, “He is going to give himself a dog for his birthday.” The “self” forms are when they are the same. Many people use “myself” as some more formal way of saying “me” but that’s usually incorrect. I would get emails at work that said something like, “Please send a copy to Jim and myself.” That’s wrong.

  11. I’m not sure where it’s from, but there is also a use of some of those reflexive forms when the semantics is not truly reflexive — the “myself” that Brian points out, but a little older a sort of deflationary tone in the 3rd person , “That’ll be himself at the door now” , or warning a kid to expect discipline later “Just you wait till himself comes home!”

  12. In one mystery series I read, the self-centered ex-wife of the husband of the protagonist was referred to as “Herself”.

  13. Mitch: the use you cite is a very Irish thing. Don’t know where they got it from — if it’s a transliteration from some form in Irish (the language), or if they copied it from someone else — but all the uses I’ve heard of that form are Irish, or wanting to be Irish.

  14. @Mitch4 & larK : we do that for emphasis, equivalent to ‘personally’ or ‘in person’.
    ‘Himself goes home’ or, on the phone, Q:’Olivier?’, A :’Himself'(not ‘Myself’).

  15. Speaking of the Shakespearean “one fell swoop”, as Arthur pointed out, the meaning of “fell” at the time was something like ” malign, ill-intentioned”, and it did not provide the all-at-once sense that forms part of the full phrase. The reason I keep harping on that is that it seems to me some people today tend to take it that way.

    I wasn’t going to pursue this further, but what should show up as this mornings Wordnik mailing selection than “fellness”! https://www.wordnik.com/words/fellness

  16. Word order eliminates prepositions in both English and Norwegian. English’s “Give it to me” / Give me it” and the Norwegian counterparts: “Gi det til meg” / “Gi meg det”. Some dialects prefer one version over the other in both languages.

  17. Grawlix – I often wonder how one group of people looked at their hands and called them “hands” and another group looked at their hands and called them “manos” etc.

    But in researching “dad” in terms of 18th century usage, I found that just about every culture/language starts the word for mother with an m sound and father with p, g or b sound. (papa, baba, etc). From what I read it is assumed that since these are the sounds babies make first they were taken used as words as for mother and father.

  18. Here, from http://www.dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2020/05/29/csotd-friday-funnies-sort-of/ , is an instance of non-reflexive use of a formally reflexive pronoun (“Herself” as though a title):


    While we’re playing around in the classics, a nit to pick with the Argyle Sweater, because Lemuel Gulliver used just this technique to extinguish a fire in the chambers of the Queen of Lilliput.

    While everyone seemed grateful that the fire was out, Her Majesty was not amused and the affair led to Gulliver’s banishment, thanks to a bit of behind-the-scenes politicking by Herself.

    (Discussion of this comic: https://i1.wp.com/www.dailycartoonist.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/tas200528.gif )

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