Please stop saying "you" when you're talking about yourself...

I am not sure why this has been really bugging the crap outta me lately. It’s not new, of course, but it does seem to me that people are doing it to excess lately, and after a certain point, it just sets my teeth on edge.

I am talking about when someone is being interviewed about something that happened to them or something they did or experienced. And it goes like this:

Q: So, when you realized that the sky was falling directly on your head, what was that like?

A: Well, it’s like you have this moment, when you know that the world is going to come to an end. You’ve been thinking about it your whole life, and now it’s really happening to you. You stop and ask yourself: “Can this really be happening?” Then you look around and you notice pieces of the sky falling on your head and clinging to your hair. Your hair is blonde and the sky is blue so it’s really noticeable. Then you ask your wife if she sees it too…

And for a long time I thought it was only really bad when they it was someone who was talking about something they had done that they were ashamed of, so they were distancing themselves from the act by persisting in the use of second-person. But no, it’s pervasive.

It just seems to me, in my stupid example, that the use of “you” becomes ridiculous and irritating by the fourth sentence… No, not “You” - I - this was NOT a universal experience, this was YOUR experience. Own it. Stop saying you.

Just a very small expression of irritation, not pitworthy. Thank you for giving me the space to express…

There’s a couple of reasons behind this, IMHO.

Firstly, people (at least when I was growing up) seem to have been taught that it’s “bad manners” to go on about yourself- I this, I that, I, I, I.

Secondly, sometimes it’s an empathetic narrative device. “Rather than just tell you how it felt/what I was experiencing, I want to try and share what it must have been like for you, so you can try and imagine yourself there”

Thirdly, sometimes the speaker really isn’t trying to talk about themselves- they’re deliberately speaking in generalities (or appealing to universality in some respect) and find a second person viewpoint effective in that regard.

Often if the subject is difficult, the speaker will speak in the 2nd person to distance himself/herself emotionally from the content.

This often happens in therapists office, and the therapist may encourage the client to narrate in the first person instead, as a way to take ownership of the issue and deal with it more directly.

But yes, it can be distracting.

Bugs me too.

When the interviewee says something like “You feel scared”, I always want to scream back at them, No, you feel scared, I feel something else entirely.

We need to revive the use of one, as in, in this situation, one often feels scared. But I don’t see that happening.

Can I add my peeves at the constant over-use of myself and yourself to this ranting? I, me, and you are perfectly good words; they don’t always need to be embiggened.

You used to do this all the time, but then I changed my ways.

And it really bothers me now when I hear other people doing it.

It’s just a method of impersonalizing or generalizing the story. To do it appropriately would probably replace “you” with “one”. It seems to me to be the same sort of replacement with how “they” gets used in third person rather than he or she to generalize the story to either gender. It really doesn’t bug me that much in the sense of grammar because it’s obvious what they mean; I really only get bugged by grammar when it creates confusion.

The part that does bug me is when it’s something that SHOULD be personal and the person is distancing himself from the story. If we’re having an emotional conversation or whatever, I think it’s important to take ownership of that experience. If we’re just talking about something generic, then I really couldn’t care less.

But that’s like telliing Jesus to stop with the parables and just say what’s on your mind

I take points off my students’ essays if they use “you” when they mean “I.” I’ve done it for years.

I also require them to use “because” instead of “since” and “finished” instead of “done.”

I know"since" is acceptable for “because” but it doesn’t mean it’s more effective than because. I tell my students that when they are published authors they can do whatever they want. I also tell them to try sentences without the word “that” and if it works without it, remove it.

And yet (hijacking my own topic) this is critically important to do when trying to have an effective discussion with someone in your life with whom you have a relationship problem. Start every sentence with “I”, because no matter how hard you try in an emotional conversation “you” sounds like an accusation and the listener tunes out.

Seems cheesy, but it’s true. Compare (quickie examples):

“You don’t listen to me.”
“I don’t feel heard.”

“You never pay any attention to me.”
“I feel lonely”

“You forget dates that are important to me and hurt my feelings.”
“I feel hurt when my birthday isn’t acknowledged.”

Interesting… Cool!

I grew up doing it and hearing everyone else doing it. I think it may be Southern. “You” meaning “a representative person”.

You should register to vote if you care about what happens in politics.

How do you get to the screen where you edit the BIOS on a PC?

Which line do you stand on if you just want to mail an overseas letter?
In such questions “you” was not held to mean “you, personally”. The following substitute sentences had exactly identical meaning:

One should register to vote if one cares about what happens in politics.

How does one get to the screen where one edits the BIOS on a PC?

Which line does one stand on if they just want to mail an overseas letter?
I don’t use that formulation as much after half a lifetime living in the northeast/atlantic.

I don’t think she’s complaining about the generic you (which is not just a Southernism), but rather using the generic you when “I” would make more sense.

I agree that I prefer people to use “I” in most cases, but it doesn’t really bug me unless it’s specifically used to deflect blame. “Well, you know. You get angry when someone says crap about the mentally ill.” No, I get angry.

I have learned that you get used to this sort of thing.

But they are trying to generalise the experience. That is the whole purpose of using “you” (or the more old-fashioned “one”), rather than “I”. “I felt that the sky was falling in” conveys the speaker’s own feelings in that actual instance. “You feel that the sky is falling in” conveys the speaker’s idea of what it would feel like to someone else. You’re right of course that they cannot know for sure what someone else would feel, but they are allowed to speculate, surely? That’s all they’re doing, and this linguistic device seems useful for that purpose.

You can’t make you! (heheheh)

I also see it as a device to draw the listener in, to elicit sympathy. Now, if the technique is failing with a listener, then I can understand the listener finding it objectionable.

But that can seem pretentious and then one is scorned for doing so.

Or to quote Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory: