Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Referring to Oneself in the First Person

Written by johnleemk on 6:50:52 am Aug 22, 2006.
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In the vein of my recent articles on writing style, I have decided to discuss my apparent ill-favour of first person pronouns, and other self-references in general.

Although the brunt of my irritation is directed at non-fiction, I can remember a time when I was young and foolish, a time when I refused to read any story with a first person narrative. Perhaps my undeveloped mind couldn't understand what the hell the writer was trying to say. Perhaps I just didn't like the seemingly necessary mental gymnastics required to understand the plot. Or maybe I was just, as my law lecturer called me today, "a right royal prick".

Whatever the case, I refused to read any story written in the first person until I was about six (or maybe five). When I decided "Oh, the hell with it - I'll just see why anyone would want to read these annoying stories," I discovered that I was indeed a right royal prick. And a stupid one at that, too. These stories were actually *gasp* fun!

And imagine what one would miss out on if every famous work of literature written from the first person perspective was excluded from one's reading list. There would be no David Copperfield, for one. Or Great Expectations. And if we escape from Dickens, there's still Huckleberry Finn. In more modern times, we wouldn't be looking at Wide Sargasso Sea (although I wouldn't be looking at it either unless I studied English Literature). In popular fiction, Michael Crichton's Prey would also be excluded.

Whatever the case, thank God I got over that odd taste in fiction. Still, it seems that I haven't fully banished my dislike of first person pronouns, especially when it comes to academic work. In an essay prepared for school, I never use a first person pronoun unless absolutely required (e.g. writing one of those stupid autobiographical stories like "How I spent my Chinese New Year"). Whenever I read non-fictional essays that make liberal use of first person pronouns (e.g. "I believe...", "I think...", "I have found...") I find it distinctly jarring.

I honestly have no idea why. Perhaps I disdain any serious work that would deign to refer to the existence of an author behind it. But then why would I find reading PhD theses (okay, they're published and edited political science theses - no heavy reading for me) so enjoyable? Maybe it's the thought that talking directly to a single person - the examiner - just seems immensely stupid to me. Who knows?

In any event, I have an irrational hatred of some other literary habits too. Second person pronouns are one of them. I don't like referring to my reader(s) as "you" unless I have no other choice. To me it sounds ridiculous. Note how I have generally avoided the use of words like "yourself", "myself", etc. in this article, opting instead for the third person "oneself".

Then again, I have been liberally using "I". Perhaps I ought to stop it. But then how would I refer to myself? I find a lot of third person references to the first person incredibly annoying. I mean, "this reporter"? Who gives a shit? "This blogger"? It's probably a symptom of morons attempting to make themselves sound like they are a major force in the media rather than the laughing stock of the average person. (This especially applies *cough* to Malaysian bloggers *cough*.) So I guess "I" will do.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I hate referring to the existence of an essay in that essay itself? Even mentioning "this article" is difficult for me. On Wikipedia, I never tolerate that unless absolutely necessary. In schoolwork, I dislike referring to an essay's objective by describing "This essay" - or even worse, "This answer". I know, it's irrational.

I've probably alienated a lot of writers out there, since pretty much everyone is a writer at some point in their lives, and they probably don't follow my odd and unconventional manual of style. Fortunately for you, I don't really find your mannerisms that disturbing. I can live with them. But when I have a quota of articles to fill, it's fun to bitch about minor peeves that would never see the light of day.


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