Theeself?

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In the comments on "Logical prescriptivism" (5/25/2009), where the inconsistency of "myself" vs. "himself" was under discussion, the fact that it's "thyself" rather than "theeself" came up.

But in addition to 15,869 instances of "thyself", Literature Online finds 19 instances of "theeself", all from 19th century drama or from dialogue in 19th century novels. And the authors include Dickens, Trollope, and Twain.

From Nicholas Nickleby (where there are two other hits):

"Brout thee!" replied John. "Why didn't'ee punch his head, or lay theeself doon and kick, and squeal out for the pollis? I'd ha' licked a doozen such as him when I was yoong as thee. But thee be'est a poor broken-doon chap," said John, sadly, "and God forgi' me for bragging ower yan o' his weakest creeturs."

From Framley Parsonage (where there is one other example):

"Come in, Robin postman, and warm theeself awhile," said Jemima the cook, pushing a stool a little to one side, but still well in front of the big kitchen fire.

"Well, I dudna jist know how it'll be. The wery 'edges 'as eyes and tells on me in Silverbridge, if I so much as stops to pick a blackberry."

"There bain't no hedges here, mon, nor yet no blackberries; so sit thee down and warm theeself. That's better nor blackberries, I'm thinking," and she handed him a bowl of tea with a slice of buttered toast.

From The Gilded Age:

"He doesn't say exactly what it is," said Ruth a little dubiously, "but it's something about land and railroads, and thee knows, father, that fortunes are made nobody knows exactly how, in a new country."

"I should think so, you innocent puss, and in an old one too. But Philip is honest, and he has talent enough, if he will stop scribbling, to make his way. But thee may as well take care of theeself, Ruth, and not go dawdling along with a young man in his adventures, until thy own mind is a little more settled what thee wants."

The OED gives theeself as a dialect variant of thyself, but the only citation is

1825 J. NEAL Bro. Jonathan II. 158 Take and read it for theeself.

The OED's entry for self has

3. Following a pron. in oblique case. Obs. exc. in himself, herself, themselves.

with the citation

1576 FLEMING Panopl. Epist. 24 Wilt thou, Seruius, stay thee selfe.

So were there actually 19th-century English dialects that had settled on theeself, whether due to vowel shift issues or as a residue of the himself, herself, themselves pattern? Or were Dickens, Trollope and Twain  just unreliable observers of the variants that they assigned to their characters, at least in some particulars?

The second option seems more likely to me in this case, but I could well be wrong. This is a minor point, but perhaps some reader who knows more about than I do about the history of (variants of) English can help out.

[Update: searching for "thee self(e)" as two words turns up a few other hits, including an anonymous 1561 play:

It is my office to bryng the elect of God to Iesus Christe: and therfore my deare brother, repose thee self in me, for I do assure thee that Iesus Christ doth wyllingly accept thee amongest his.

]

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38 Comments »

  1. Picky said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    I think "theeself" is possible, even today, though pronounced with a short "i" perhaps. "Sit thisself down" sounds very believable to my ear.

    Certainly both "tha sen" and "thee sen" are still live dialect forms for "yourself" in the North of England.

  2. Sili said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    It sounds less odd when written in two as in the 1561 example. I'd never say "repose thy in me", but "repose thee in me" doesn't bother me.

  3. Faldone said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    I see the Framley Parsonage citation also has a transitive 'sit.'

  4. rootlesscosmo said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 9:58 am

    The Nicholas Nickleby quote has "yan" meaning "one," recalling Language Hat's discussion of the "yan tan tethera" system of counting:

    http://www.languagehat.com/archives/002031.php

  5. Steve said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 10:03 am

    I agree with Picky – 'thisself' with a short i or a schwa is still current in parts of the North of England, and possibly elsewhere. With the short vowel, it's impossible to know whether this is a reduction of 'theeself' or 'thyself', and I suspect that most speakers, if asked, would either not know, or give different answers.

  6. Ken Grabach said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    This part of Southwest Ohio (near Oxford) and neighboring parts of Indiana (centered on Richmond) have populations of Friends (Quakers), some of whom have been here for many generations. I have heard some speak among themselves in 'plain talk'. They commonly use 'thee' in place of 'you', and 'thy' in place of your. I cannot recall other forms of the word, but theeself instead of thyself would sound about right, despite usage of 'thy' for the possessive. Their grammar seems consistent within their usage, but not consistent with a formal grammatical style for these words. For example, I have not heard use of 'thou', or archaic forms of 'to be', such as 'art'.

    "I'm glad to see thee is here. And it is so nice, you brought the salad in thy best bowl." This is an approximation from a conversation between a mother and adult daughter at a holiday gathering. Both were college educated, although the plain usage might not sound like it.

    I realize that this does not directly address the question of theeself or thyself, but I hope it does add to the understanding of continued use of this form of speaking in contemporary English.

  7. Amy Stoller said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    The word spelled "thy" is pronounced [ði] "thee" (or [ðɪ] "thih"; i.e., "this" minus the S) in a great many English dialects even today. The same is true of "my" in its weak form, which is pronounced "me" in most of England as well as Ireland. You don't have to go further back or further north than D.H. Lawrence's plays and novels, set in the East Midlands; in the past few years I have made recordings of people from Lawrence's home town of Eastwood who still speak this way.

    You can also find instances of "her" for "she" even before you get to such apparent oddities as "oh" (Eastwood), "hoo" (Lancashire), and "sha" (Yorkshire). English is a bit like Cleopatra; it has infinite varieties.

  8. Janet Swisher said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 10:27 am

    @Ken Grabach: "Thee" replaced "thou" in Quaker English, just as "you" replaced "ye" in the second person in standard English.

    It might be interesting to search Quaker texts for "theeself". I have a collection of letters written by my Quaker grandfather in the early 20th century. I don't recall seeing "theeself", but I haven't read them with that in mind.

  9. Faldone said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 10:41 am

    In areas where 'theeself' is normal in the singular do we hear 'youselves' in the plural?

  10. Wordnut said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    What about "thineself"?

  11. tashi said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 11:19 am

    In Yorkshire you wouldn't be able to distinguish "youselves" from "yourselves".

    @Faldone "Sit thee down" isn't really transitive is it? It's seems to me more of an imperative with word order inverted for emphasis, cf. "hear ye", "Read thou my words", etc. Don't know the linguistic term for it.

  12. Faldone said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    @tashi: The 'ye' in 'hear ye' and the 'thou' in 'Read thou my words' are nominative. The 'thee' in 'sit thee down' is objective. Or it is if the areas that say this retain the 'thou' nominative form.

  13. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 11:28 am

    Well, with numbers that lopsided, I guess my unqualified claim about thyself should be less controversial than "women are less happy than men." The Gilded Age quote seems to correspond with the specific Quaker usage pattern (i.e. "thee" is used in nominative case) — don't know if that makes sense in terms of the character who's speaking. Until well into the 20th century, it was not uncommon for people with little formal education to be aware of various now-archaic features of English because even those who had little exposure to Shakespeare would still have been exposed to Scripture primarily in the King James Version. But they might not have actually figured out how to use the archaic features correctly (in terms of the syntactic rules that governed before they became obsolete). So for example, you see things like "we giveth, and you taketh away" because the -eth suffix is not understood to be specific to third person singular. (More poignantly, I recently saw an early 20th century gravestone for a child who'd died at the age of four or five carved with a bit of verse that began "I am not dead but sleepeth.") An isolated occurrence of "theeself" could be a similar phenomenon. Whether the Quaker usage is a misunderstanding of this nature that "stuck" and thus became correct in a dialect-specific way is an interesting question, but I don't know its history.

  14. Picky said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 11:29 am

    But, Tashi, it could be transitive as in "I'll just sit me down here".

  15. marie-lucie said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 11:29 am

    @myl: So were there actually 19th-century English dialects that had settled on theeself, whether due to vowel shift issues or as a residue of the himself, herself, themselves pattern? Or were Dickens, Trollope and Twain just unreliable observers of the variants that they assigned to their characters, at least in some particulars? – The second option seems more likely to me in this case, but I could well be wrong.

    I think it is very unlikely that Dickens, Trollope and Twain were "unreliable observers" of dialects that they (and the reading public) must have been much more familiar with than more recent authors, since the dialects of the time had been much less influenced by universal education in the standard variety. This is not a case similar to modern authors writing "sez" or "wimmin" to suggest a substandard accent when in fact they are reproducing standard pronunciation. Twain was very particular in assigning different dialects to different characters and pointing out that there was no inconsistency in his rendition of those dialects, as they were not meant to be the same.

    As for "theeself", it seems to me that where the 2nd person singular pronoun has been preserved, there must have been a parallel development of "myself" and "thyself" (pronounced "thisself" as others point out above), but the spelling "theeself" may be influenced by that of "thee", the vowel of which is the same as that of "me", hence the pair "meself/theeself" where the difference is probably only for the eye. Where the pronoun has not been preserved, of course only "meself" (pronounced "misself") occurs.

  16. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

    @rootlesscosmo:

    I don't think the "yan" is anything to do with the survival of Brythonic numbers; it's a Northern English/Scots dialect form. Compare Billy Connolly, the "Big Yin" [jən]
    In Hawick, Berwick and such areas the form is "yen" [jɛn]

    "Yan" might reasonably be used to write the Northumbrian or Lowland Scots version of "one"; I'm not sure if Dickens is correct in putting it in the mouth of a Yorkshireman, but there's a lot of dialect variation within Yorkshire. There are LL readers who know …

  17. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    Dickens was right (I suppose he does show some promise as an observer of humanity) …

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=7hMLAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA1&ots=jFq1zVIQYy&dq=yorkshire+dialect

    turns up "yan" for "one", also"tweea" for "two", "leaf" for "loaf" etc, showing (presumably) the same [iə] reflex of Old English [a:] that turns up in Northumbrian.

  18. Dan T. said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

    There's also "thineself", which is part of the same sort of archaic speech as "mineself".

  19. dr pepper said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

    I too, thought of quakers when "theeself" was mentioned.

    As for counting sequences, i remeber reading a list of several in a folklore book many years ago. Unfortunately, all i can remember is that several began with "ane".

    Also, wouldn't "sit thee down" be reflexive?

  20. Nigel Greenwood said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

    See Thou (or should that be Thee?) for the Yorkshire admonition to "overly familiar children": Don't thee tha them as thas thee!

  21. Nathan Myers said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    Let's not forget Shakespeare's insufferable Polonius intoning "thine own self".

  22. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    Having thought of Google Books,it occurred to me to look up the classic account of his native Windhill Yorkshire dialect by the aamazing Joseph Wright

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Wright_(linguist)

  23. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

    His dialect has [uə] for Old English [a:] and [wun] for "one".
    Ah, Yorkshire …

  24. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

    Wow, Dickens *was* right.

    Dotheboys hall was apparently based on Bowes Academy which is up over the border in County Durham, so a Northern Yorkshire dialect would be entirely appropriate for the neighbours.

    Now that's impressive – not just boilerplate Yorkshire,but the *right* Yorkshire. This man shows promise as a novelist, I tell you.

  25. Noetica said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

    Nathan:

    Let's not forget Shakespeare's insufferable Polonius intoning "thine own self".

    But that's a perfectly normal substitution of thine for thy before a vowel. Cf. mine eyes.

    I'm with those who think theeself a likely catachrestic over-archaism. If J.W. Brewer had not raised cases like "we giveth, and you taketh away" above, I would have done so myself.

    That sort of thing is pervasive. I have even seen "Whom do know?" in print. Resembling the touching example on the child's gravestone mentioned by JWB, this one was in a self-published memorial book of poems for the widowed poet's wife.

  26. Nathan Myers said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    Then there's http://www.flickr.com/photos/orangecats/2482331708/ : "Have not shame for thou love of shoes". The grammar wouldn't have been improved by adding a question mark, but the sign would. Maybe better, if just a touch shrill (not to say sacrilegious), "Hast thou no shame, for the love of Shoes?"

  27. Meredith said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

    In Orkney, Scotland you'll commonly hear "theeself" (or rather, "theesel"), pronounced with an [i]. In his book on the dialect, Gregor Lamb gives "Thoo can deu hid theesel" (You can do it yourself) as an example (2005: 46). I never got the impression that this form was limited to older speakers or traditional dialect contexts. Of course, in Orcadian "thee" is both a possessive adjective and an object pronoun so it might not be a very interesting case in the context of a "myself" vs "himself" discussion.

  28. dr pepper said,

    May 27, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

    @David Eddyshaw

    Dotheboys hall

    Since Dickens's time that particular perk has been abolished.

  29. Picky said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 3:46 am

    Of course Framley and Silverbridge are in Barsetshire, and I'm no expert on the Barset dialect. But Somerset's not that far away, and Somerset dialect for "yourself" is "theezelf".

    So that's Dickens and Trollope getting the thumbs up. How about Twain?

  30. Picky said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 6:57 am

    Thinking about it, the "ee" is not short in Somerset; and assuming that Barset is just to the east, Barcastrians probably voice the "z" a little less than folk in Somerset.

  31. marie-lucie said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 8:07 am

    Picky, do the Someset speakers say "meeself" also?

  32. Picky said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    I don't think so, m-l. Moizelf, I think, but I'm not sure. (Help! someone!)

    I see what you're getting at – we've been convincing ourselves this is "thyself" pronounced with an ee or i. The Somerset example may be informative. Any Somerset speakers around?
    Sumersaet ealle, anyone?

  33. Picky said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    On the other hand the Somerset song "Drink up thee zider" suggests "thee" is a pronunciation of "thy"

  34. Amy Stoller said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    @Picky: "we've been convincing ourselves this is "thyself" pronounced with an ee or i. The Somerset example may be informative."

    A Somerset example may be informative about Somerset, but not necessarily about the midlands and points north. Surely local dialects arise in part because of the varied influences in different locations.

    In any case, I don't think it's a question of convincing ourselves. There is ample documentation, in books as well as websites (some of which latter have information that is admittedly suspect), that in at least some midlands and northern areas of England the first syllable of "theeself" or "thisself" (or "theesen" or "thissen") would be spelled "thy" by anyone not resorting to eye-dialect, likewise that "tha" represents the pronunciation of the word whose standard spelling is "thou," and so forth.

  35. Picky said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 11:53 am

    My apologies, Ms Stoller, I wasn't suggesting you were in need of convincing. And it was not a good expression – I was just describing the track my limping thoughts had been following. What I was suggesting could be informative was whether (as marie-lucie asked) Somerset had "mee for my" to parallel "three for thy" in the way you had described.

    Meanwhile, are you suggesting "tha sen" means "thouself" – because that would be an attractive variant.

  36. marie-lucie said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    Picky: moizelf: does the dialect has [oi] for [ai] generally? If so, perhaps [moizelf] would be the local pronunciation of Standard "myself", but since the various forms of "thou" are not standard, the local dialect could have preserved the old pronunciation of the 2nd singular reflexive.

  37. Picky said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

    Yes, and yes, m-l

  38. boynamedsue said,

    May 31, 2009 @ 11:25 am

    Thisen is still heard in Yorkshire, I've never heard "thiself", I'm sure it may have been used in the past, and would be adecuately rendered "theeself".

    "thyself" (I take thy to rhyme with thigh) is something I've never personally heard used by an English person, though I suppose there might once have been some who said it round the Forest of Dean, given the history they have of using "thou" and their west country vowels.

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