8

I came across this phrase/these words while reading a novel. What does it mean? Like If I say :

  1. I cried myself.

  2. I wanted to cry myself.

Does it mean crying over oneself? I mean crying over something wrong one has done?

Here is the quote where I read it:

A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself.

Chapter 1, Charlotte's Web

  • 5
    Can you post more context, or link to the exact place where you read it? It sounds wrong to this native US English speaker. – stangdon Nov 10 '16 at 19:18
  • 7
    Was it just "cry oneself"? Not "cry oneself to sleep"? – J. Siebeneichler Nov 10 '16 at 19:20
  • 2
    @Khan See StoneyB below. This is just a plain old reflexive pronoun. The author might have provided a comma before himself to make it clearer on the page, but this is a children's story, meant to be read aloud, and in English it is perfectly natural to say "I was almost ready to cry myself!" with the meaning "I, myself, was almost ready to cry!" My own children, at seven or eight years of age, had no trouble understanding this when I read it to them. – P. E. Dant Nov 10 '16 at 20:43
  • 4
    Wait hang on. It's been over 20 years since I last read/saw Charlotte's Web. The family's last name is Arable? They're farmers? Do they own their farm? If so, it's Arable land. If that was intentional I suddenly have way more respect for E.B. White. – Tofystedeth Nov 10 '16 at 22:14
  • 3
    @Tofystedeth Mr White was not an author solely of children's books. He was one of the most brilliant humorists and essayists of his or any age. It was intentional. – P. E. Dant Nov 10 '16 at 22:27
21

He seemed almost ready to cry himself.

Himself here is not an argument of the verb; this is an emphatic use of the reflexive pronoun.

John Arable himself seemed almost ready to cry.

It serves in particular to remind the reader of the context: John's daughter Fern is weeping because John intends to kill the piglet, and now John too, even John is close to tears. It is quite natural to place this at the end of the sentence, just as we often place too at the end: this shifts the vocal stress off of the verb onto the emphatic.

  • 2
    For want of a comma, a horse was lost... – P. E. Dant Nov 10 '16 at 20:22
  • I think himself functions as an intensive pronoun in this construction. – Harrison Paine Nov 10 '16 at 20:53
  • 2
    Good answer, but honestly, I've never read any emphatic meaning into this, I just understand it to mean 'as well'. For instance, if my friend said to me, 'I'm hungry, can we go to a café?' I might reply, 'sure, actually, I wouldn't mind a bite to eat myself.' And I would certainly only mean to say 'I too', or 'I, like you, would like a bite to eat' and not 'I - yes I! - would like something to eat' – Au101 Nov 10 '16 at 21:54
  • @Au101 Emphatic in the technical sense--that is, emphasizing the constituent it refers to rather than acting as an object of the verb. But putting it the end does put the strongest emphasis in the predicate on it--say it out loud and you'll find you're raising the pitch strongly on self. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 10 '16 at 22:31
  • 2
    @Au101 That's right. The subject ordinarily bears the least emphasis in the sentence, because it's "old information"; a reflexive right after it puts more emphasis on it, but it leaves the primary emphasis on the "new information" in the predicate; but putting the reflexive at the end moves the emphasis off the predicate and marks its referent, the subject, as the most highly emphasized constituent. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 10 '16 at 22:50
12

The quote which caused confusion from Charlotte's Web:

A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself

Reading the story in full context, another character besides John Arable is already crying. As things develop, John Arable gets more upset to the point where he himself may start crying. This is a typical use of the intensive pronoun (himself/herself/itself/myself etc.). A more concise, and complete example would be:

Steve is eating ice cream. I am about to eat ice cream myself.

The intensive pronoun refers back to the subject (in the example I am the subject) and places extra emphasis on the subject.

3

I cried myself

is equivalent to

I cried myself (as well).

Where "myself" indicates that some other person (--self) probably cried initially.

Another possible usage is to mean that person X responded by doing Y, but the speaker cried. That would typically be written better as

(Joanne was stunned.) Myself, I cried.

There is an additional usage which is different;

I cried myself (silly | hoarse | to sleep)

which is a way of saying the speaker cried till they were hoarse, etc.

  • The last example might be better as "to sleep". "I cried myself to death", while grammatical, is quite nonsensical/impossible. – Martha Nov 11 '16 at 7:21
  • :) edited 'to death' to 'to sleep', per Martha's suggestion, thanks! – Pranab Nov 11 '16 at 7:36
2

A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself.

This is an oddly phrased way to say, "he was himself almost ready to cry." To me it appears out of order, but I guess to the writer E.B White, this is perfectly natural vernacular. "To cry oneself" might be a common expression in his experience.

  • Is there any other way to say this? Can we use "he was choked up or on verge of tears" here? – Saqeeb Nov 10 '16 at 19:37
  • @Khan Yes, there are many ways to say this. "Charlotte's Web" is a children's book and written in a kind of folksy vernacular. – Andrew Nov 10 '16 at 19:41
  • Do you know where E.B. White's community was? – P. E. Dant Nov 10 '16 at 20:38
  • Apparently he was born near to and worked much of his life in New York City, but later lived in Maine. So it's not clear why he would use that expression, since it doesn't sound like NYC to me. – Andrew Nov 10 '16 at 20:43
  • 1
    Interestingly enough E.B. White is one of the authors of "The Elements of Style". I never made the connection before. – Andrew Nov 10 '16 at 20:44
0

In the context you are using it, it basically means "as well", so in your examples:

  1. I cried as well.
  2. I wanted to cry as well.

in other words someone else is already crying.

The other context as already mentioned is something additional like:

I cried myself to sleep.

which basically "I cried until I went to sleep" or "I used crying to get to sleep", as you would use for "I rocked the baby to sleep".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.