By Tom Kando
Do you realize that some pronouns are nicer than others? Think of their usage in informal conversations, in speeches, in newspaper articles, or in any other context.
You are having dinner with friends and you chit-chat. About the weather, the presidential election, your hometown basketball team, a guest’s new job, the children’s college graduation, a recent trip someone took, whatever. For example, you ask, “hey John, are you planning any trips this holiday season?” I
John starts his answer with, “I....” - as in “well, Tom, I’m flying to Hawaii for ten days next month. I own property on several of the outer islands...”
Someone else butts in and says, “I can’t stand Hawaii. I think it’s a phony tourist trap.” So here we have bragging (which can cause gagging), self-importance, and opinionated negativity.
Another example: you and a buddy may be discussing politics or sports, for example the economic crisis, or the likely Superbowl finalists. He’ll say, “I find the federal bail-out plan a crock,” or “I’m sure that New England can only get to the Superbowl by cheating...” Again, use of the word “I” is associated with asinine behavior.
More often than not, the pronoun “I” is annoying!
What about “you”? At a stoplight, someone may say, “Hey you! Whatchya doing driving that big gas guzzler?” or a colleague may say “you always talk too fast. Why are you so uptight?” People who talk to someone and begin with “you” are often meddling, criticizing, opinionating, bloviating.
“You” can also often be a drag.
THEY and THEM
What about “they” and “them”? Like in: “Guess what they do, in Saudi Arabia? They cut off thieves’ hands.”
Or “those damn immigrants, we should send them all back to where they came from. They bring nothing but trouble.”
When we talk about “them,” we often generalize about an out-group, and it is frequently to make prejudiced, stereotypical and negative pronouncements about “the other,” those who are not like “us” and who don’t belong with us. We don’t usually say nice things about them.
“They” and “them” are often not so nice, either.
HE and SHE
“He” and “she”? Maybe talking about an individual third person is less harmful than generalizing to entire out-groups, although negative gossip is also bad.
“He” and “she” might be okay, depending.
US and OURS
How about “Us”and “ours”? As in “leave us alone,” or “our music is the best.”
“Us” and “ours” can be awfully exclusionary, which is annoying.
Last but not least, “we”: Your friend says, “we should get together for dinner and go out to see a movie.” Or a leader says “we, the American people, should help each other through this crisis.”
Or my wife and I remind each other that “we” love each other.
Yes, “we” can often be good. It is a lot better than “I,” and it can also be better than “us.” It’s probably the best pronoun.
leave comment here
Sunday, December 21, 2008
By Tom Kando