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.

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