Meanings: “Me, Myself and I”

June 23, 2011

There’s been a good deal of commentary focusing on the frequency on President Obama’s use of first person pronouns (such as “me,” “myself,” and “I,”), suggesting that that the current President thinks a good deal more of himself than he should.

Enter a number of linguistically savvy fact-checkers, including Language Log’s Mark Liberman.  Last evening’s Obama speech about Afghanistan was attacked on the ‘overuse of me, myself an I’ claim by Thomas Lifson, editor of The American Thinker.  Liberman subjects the claim to serious analysis and finds it seriously in error.

He finds that Obama uses “me,” “myself” and “I” no more frequently than other Presidents in this case or in previous speeches.  He isn’t the first to point this error out, and he has pointed out the error in the claim many times in the past.  (His blog post today lists other occasions he has written about this.  They, too, are worth reading.)  President Obama’s critics seem unmoved by the weight of evidence against their claim.

It’s also very unclear that a tendency to use first person pronouns more frequently than others means anything at all about the speaker’s personality.  (Again, Barack Obama does NOT use first person pronouns more frequently in speeches than previous presidents.)

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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