thoughts on possession and ownership

recently i was at a party, and someone i know introduced me to someone new as, “this is my english teacher.” this is not particularly strange to me, since i’ve been an english teacher for much of the time since approximately 1992, when i had my first teaching position.

two evenings ago, while walking around maastricht, i pointed out a shop and said, “and that’s my hair person’s shop.”

i am very self-centered. i talk about myself a lot. i connect events in other people’s lives to mine. everything in my world (note use of possessive again) is mine or relates to me. if i were on one of my rants about personal responsibility and my own philosophy of life, this entry would be a lot more of that. i’m not. i’m just commenting on how strange it is to be referred to as “my anything” by people. my friend, my wife, my lover, my ex, my girlfriend, my acquaintance, my sister, my coworker, my daughter, etc etc etc.

“this is sharon.” no explanation. i’m going to start doing that with other people, when i remember, and see what happens to conversation. without possessing the people i’m introducing.

on another note, i asked dick if he had an non-native english speaker’s perspective on why “how come?” means the same as “why?” he explained that it translates exactly in dutch (yes, with the same sounds, actually) and is like, “how comes that to be?” which, now that i didn’t think of it, makes perfect sense. or, as kristi’s shirt says, “it seems so easy to recognize…”


  1. I really have no problem with using possessives when introducing people (must be the Taurean in me)…yes, it’s sometimes nice to know more than “this is my xxxx” but I like knowing about connections between people…so it’s actually a nicer method of getting to know someone that you introduce, rather than having to ask “So…how do you know our mutual friend?” I like context…

  2. The possessive in relationship to one’s relations to the world has always bugged me. It can be pretty absurd if you think about it. See esp. “Kill your rapist.” “My rapist is E.F. Hutton, and he says…”

    Another weird one is “It”, as in “It’s ten o’clock.” What is? Time is? I always figured it for “I am experiencing ten o’clock.” I mentioned this idea to a linguist, and she flat shot me down, but that’s the sort of thing she’s given to anyway, so I go on with my delusional life.

    Good post. Grist for the mill. Thanks.

  3. I think the possesive is a courtesy in social situations…

    for someone as insecure and neurotic as I have turned out to be, being introduced as “my hiarstylist,” “my friend,” “my… something” in some way makes me feel like it grants me permission to be in the situation. (e.g. I am AT the party, because I know so-and-so and they want me there… in essence they own me in a way).
    Frankly, this is a disturbing bit of insight into my own insecurity. I can’t believe I have become so pathetic as to feel a need for my presence to be justified. As a matter of fact – fuck that. I’m going to try and get the hell over my being insecure. period. But I digress…
    As I was saying, when I myself introduce people, I always try and make them feel welcome etc. by explaining my ties (ownership “my good friend” “my brilliant teacher” etc. etc.) – both giving them permission to be in the situation and complimenting them at the same time, so as to make them feel very good and confident. I suppose this is some form of the golden rule (do unto others) manifesting itself. I don’t think I mind that I do this – but I do mind that I do it as an extension of my own insecurity.
    Luckily, I start therapy on Monday.
    Goody for me.

    On a side note – I don’t think of ownership too much otherwise. I think “the person who does my hair” rather than “My hairdresser.” or “the guy who fixes my car” rather than “my mechanic.” This may or may not be part of the general neurosis. Probably is though.

    I think it all stems from repeatedly being told how selfish I am/was especially during formative years. Therefore I have supressed my own ego to an unhealthy degree. See, I don’t need therapy. If, as GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle – I’m, like, cured already. Ha!

    Thanks for letting me ramble on in this deluge of self discovery and sudden insight. Ha.

    Miss you. Wish we could go to the beach – it’s a georgeous day.

  4. I guess I’ve never thought of saying “this is my friend / hairdresser / lover” to be the same thing as “this is my desk / car / collection of Victorian navel lint”. Not speaking a language other then english, I can only speak to it, but enlish is a language that is very dependant on context. There is the classic “eskimos have a hundred ways to say ‘snow'” comment, for example, while in english we just say “snow”. It is entirely possible that the reason I feel this way is because I subconsciously believe that the world and everything in it is mine and therefore I do possess it. The “I am the center of the universe” view of life, which, I think, most people really can’t help but feel…especially if they are from a western culture.

  5. so far, i’m not doing very well at this. i have continued to refer to people as “my ….”

    i will be at a party tomorrow. perhaps i can work on this there.

    (it is now september 2nd, in case anyone wonders)

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