Be Self-Styled

self-styled – considered and called (something specified) only by the individual himself or herself; alleged (to be such) only by the person concerned; pretended; professed.

Here are the 8 most recent uses of this phrase in the Washington Post:

  1. The small but avid universe of Bigfoot enthusiasts includes self-styled investigators. (more)
  2. A two-term incumbent and self-styled pragmatist who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. (more)
  3. A self-styled “Reagan Republican” … was deeply impressed by Obama’s willingness to come to his parish. (more)
  4. The self-styled “Doctor of Dress” doles out advice. (more)
  5. The changing urban lifestyles have galvanized many self-styled custodians of Indian culture. (more)
  6. Steingraber’s scientific cool and unflagging sense of mission make for an arresting portrait of a self-styled modern-day Rachel Carson. (more)
  7. The most radical work comes not from the journalist-turned-activist or from the self-styled muckraker but from the Oxford economist. (more)
  8. Nobody wanted a revolution. And when I see what the so-called revolution has brought — mass poverty, homelessness, self-styled capitalists selling off our plants and pocketing the money — I think we were right. (more)

While “self-styled” seems mostly a put-down, it is a notably weak one. The user of this phrase notes that someone claims something, but lacks an official credential, or strong consensus, supporting this claim. But we the reader can also note that this speaker offers no stronger criticism, and is not willing to directly contradict the offending claim. After all, instead of calling someone a “self-styled visionary,” you might say “he calls himself a visionary, but he’s not; he hasn’t has a vision in years.”

I admire grand ambition, and think our society relies way too much on uninformative official credentials, that tend to signal status affiliations, social-savvy, and generic impressiveness more than specific relevant features. So if someone goes out of their way to flag that they dislike some presumption of yours, but aren’t willing to actually disagree with or criticize your claim, I’d call that a pretty good sign about you.  Go ahead, be self-styled.  To my style eye, self-styled is more stylish than credentialed.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL:
  • anon

    Just curious, what sets “grand ambition” apart from what you call “generic impressiveness” here? Also, is there any evidence that the “grand ambition” you respect has beneficial external effects, or that it signals desirable qualities more efficiently than general impressiveness or credentials?

    Overall, it seems that too many people pursue glamorous projects even though they lack a solid approach and should expect to fail. Should we really respect this kind of ambition, even though most of them could be successful by pursuing more modest goals?

  • Sean Cooksey

    Would we think of “self-styled” being on par with the adjective of “self-proclaimed”? It seems that self-proclaimed is a more pejorative way of describing someone and adds more of an implication of phoniness to the person.

    It seems like we don’t react as badly to a “self-styled muckraker” as we do to a “self-proclaimed healer”. Does the idea that we are actively advertising our uncredentialed title make us seem desperate for others’ approval in a way self-styling doesn’t? Does this proclamation work as a form of desperate pleading for acceptance and thus lower our status.

    Self-styled is too cool for societies approval; self-proclaimed is begging for an exception from it.

  • Another of your insightful observations. Nicely done.

  • Psychohistorian

    “Self-styled” seems like a journalistic euphemism for “so-called.” beause reporters do not wish to “take sides,” they will generally not call a crackpot a crackpot. I can’t say I’ve ever heard someon described as “self-styled” in any context where the speaker is not expected to be euphemistic.

    The fact that people aren’t saying anything meaner is therefore useless: if they were going to say something meaner, they’d have said that instead so they aren’t in your sample! Just because some people will not overtly disparage you does not mean you have a desirable characteristic. You need to show positive outcomes or community respect; some people (especially journalists) using euphemisms is wholly unsurprising.

  • noematic

    Perhaps the perjorative implication of the ‘self-styled’ label is merely to serve as something of a caveat emptor caution to readers, in instances where an analysis of the writer’s specific concerns could be time consuming and costly.

    Such a caution won’t unfavourably imapct upon uncredentialed but effective ‘self styled’ experts, who can respond to any perceived need for caution in their product/ service through established trust, reputation and experience.

    Raising the status of self styled experts generally may increase the risk of buying into an ineffective self styled expert’s product/ service and lower the value of uncredentialed but effective self styled experts.

  • I like this post very much. I’m a self-styled humorist, meaning I find my comedic novels funny. Time will tell if anybody else does.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Overcoming Bias : Be Self-Styled --

  • josh

    Now that’s a good blog post.

  • anon, glamorous or impressive need not be grand.

    Psycho, the lack of saying something meaner is a signal.

    noematic, the theory that they didn’t have time to elaborate on their insult is less plausible when most of the article is about the insulted person.

    • noematic

      Filler material in articles is often easy to produce, especially in frivolous articles. That the subject of the article is the insulted person, or that the article itself was produced, does not necessarily imply that there was sufficient time or effort available for, or devoted to conducting due diligence into an issue.

  • Tom Adams

    Washington Post use #6 does not seem to fit the definition you provide. It’s not a put-down, no pretense is implied. All it seems to mean is that the person voluntarily took on the mantle of Rachel Carson.

    In #8, are these people really self-styled capitalist? Are they pretending to own the plants they are selling? How are they pretending to be capitalist? I guess they could be crooks selling stolen property posing as capitalist.

    • Tom Adams

      If P is a self-styled X, then X has to be something that can be faked.

      I am not sure it’s possible to be a self-styled owner of capital.

      You could be a self-styled supporter of capitalism.

  • eric

    This really is a very uplifting message for noncomformists. It’s very frustrating dealing with society because society values conformity over independent thought. Conformists then like to insult us to enforce conformity and out of resentment that we do not tow the line. Unfortunately for them they lack the brain power to deliver a substantive insult so most often they deliver an empty ad hominem like “self-styled.” This tactic is unfortunate for us nonconformists as well because we are often puzzled by the failure to substantively engage and frustrated that there is nothing to rebut. If we choose to take the losing strategy of engaging conformists their response is inevitably to further obfuscate and to avoid genuine discourse at all costs. It’s not just that they are choosing to avoid it either, they usually don’t even understand why they don’t like us or resent some position that we take. Their indoctrination does not function at a conscious level so we get stuck dealing with the knee jerk reactions of these virtual automatons.

    It’s good to have a place like this where we can confirm our sanity. “I am self-styled” is a great rallying cry.

  • Tom Adams

    The quotes don’t support the notion that self-styled is a notably weak putdown. The quotes run the gamut from approval (#6) to stong condemnation (#8). In #8, the self-styled capitalist are right down there with homelessness and mass poverty.

  • Firaga

    Says the credentialed professor.