Category Archives: connotations of words

“My”—such an innocuous little pronoun—or is it?

Usually we think of “my” as meaning “having a relationship to me” as in “my hometown” or “my homework.”

But it can also mean “having an affectionate relationship to me, a term of endearment” as in “That’s my boy!” or as in the Smokey Robinson song, “My girl (my girl, my girl) Talkin’ ’bout my girl (my girl).”

Now a third meaning  is being used by President Trump as in “ownership and control.” Trump said ,“Where’s my favorite dictator?” when referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi).  He has also referred to the US military as “my generals” or “my military.”

According to The Washington Post on September 17, Trump’s use of the word “my” can be viewed  by many as inappropriate.   Is Trump merely saying that he has a particular relationship (my military, not Canada’s military or China’s military)?  Or is he saying that the military is in his pocket and beholden to him?  The intent is in the mind of the speaker but the interpretation is in the mind of the listener.

One time Trump used “my” to single out an African American attending one of his rallies, calling that person “my African American.”  In that case the use of “my” could seem not only inappropriate but paternalistic and demeaning.

One can assume that Trump is well aware of the connotations of his words, even tiny two-letter words like “my.”